This article was written by London-based GP – Dr Nirja Joshi
You may have come across more discussion about ADHD recently. It has come up increasingly on social media, and as doctors, we are certainly seeing more adults and children coming into clinic with concerns about having ADHD.
So what is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The main symptoms includied difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, and acting impulsively (such as doing things without thinking through the repercussions). In most cases, ADHD is diagnosed during childhood, as it often presents with difficulty engaging in school, with work and with peers. However, occasionally, it can be diagnosed in adulthood. More and more, we are seeing adults asking whether they had a missed diagnosis of ADHD as a child. In most cases, in my experience, adults have not met the criteria for ADHD diagnosis. So why has it become more common to look into these symptoms?
ADHD and TikTok
ADHD videos have become very popular on social media, particularly TikTok (1). This is very interesting, as the platform is designed to take you through multiple short form videos which, in themselves, would mean that you are shifting focus every few seconds or minutes. If you ask someone who uses TikTok if they have a ‘shortened attention span’, it would be easy to relate to that symptom given that is what they are engaging with online. In fact, most social media has meant that people are encouraged to spend short periods of time looking at a post or a story, interacting and moving on. I can imagine most people who use instagram would have been interrupted by an advert, which they click on, find themselves browsing another website before realising how many minutes have passed. This is the nature of social media, and hence it is difficult to tangle out a mental health diagnosis, from learned behaviour of distractibility from apps.
Conversely, people with ADHD are the perfect audience for things such as TikTok, due to the short form videos, this type of platform appeals to the shortened attention span and difficulty concentrating. Those posting content about ADHD are more likely to be seen by people with ADHD on this type of short and relatable posts (1).
The difficulty is, that these videos are often not posted by doctors or those in the medical profession. A study by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry earlier this year, looked into the videos on TikTok. The hashtag #ADHD had 10.6 billion views between all of the posts (2). The traction on this hashtag has gone up significantly in the last 18 months. Of the top 100 videos about ADHD, only 11 of these were from healthcare professionals or other trusted sources. 52% of the videos were found to contain misleading information (2). It is clear that improving visibility about mental health is very important, however, with incorrect information forming the majority of what patients are being exposed to, it’s important to improve access to correct information.
What are the symptoms of ADHD and how would someone be diagnosed with it?
As mentioned above, ADHD is usually diagnosed in children, mostly between the ages of 3 and 7 (3).
In childen, this tends to present with:
- Dfficulties being organised and attending school on time
- Being disruptive in class
- Easily distracted in school or at home
- Difficulty concentrating on work or play
In adults, the list of symptoms are quite common, and hence it can be harder to diagnose in adulthood:
- Challenges with organisation and time management
- Focusing on tasks
- Difficulties dealing with stress
- Feeling restless or impatient
I’m sure that a lot of adults would read this list and feel that they suffer with these symptoms some of the time. The important distinction, medically, is that ADHD behaviour occurs in all settings in life. By this, I mean that if you cannot concentrate on a work assignment for 30 minutes, you would similarly not be able to watch a TV show for 30 minutes. The behaviour would exist at work, at home and in your social life without exception. It is also important to note that ADHD cannot happen for the first time in adults, so symptoms would have been present from childhood.
Some patients (around 2 in 10) do not suffer with the hyperactivity element, so they are not consistently feeling restless, this is known as Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD (3).
With ADD or ADHD people may suffer concurrently with other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, personality disorder or bipolar disorder (3).
Who is more likely to suffer from ADHD?
The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to run more in families, and those at higher risk include those who were born prematurely or with a low birth weight and those with brain damage (4).
I think I might have ADHD
If you think that you may be suffering with ADHD, you would need to speak to your GP and ultimately, be referred to a specialist for diagnosis. They will carry out an assessment to see if your symptoms meet the criteria for a diagnosis.
As a GP, I am often able to reassure patients that their symptoms are not ADHD, which can be helpful as specialist waiting lists for this condition can be quite lengthy.
To help you, there is a screening questionnaire by ADHD UK (5) here, it does not replace seeing a doctor about your symptoms, but can be a useful starting point for a discussion with your doctor
Why get a diagnosis?
As a child and an adult, having a diagnosis can help as you are able to understand your behaviours better. There is no cure for ADHD, so it is important to manage symptoms in your context. Children and adults may be offered support with school and work which may be helpful. It may also reveal a different diagnosis which may require other types of support. Medication can be offered as well to both children and adults, but this can only be initiated by a specialist (6).
Where can I learn more about ADHD?
The ADHD foundation is a great place to get help and support for adults and children https://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk/about-us/
- williams camille. TikTok Is My Therapist: The Dangers and Promise of Viral #MentalHealth Videos [Internet]. additute. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 23]. Available from: https://www.additudemag.com/tiktok-adhd-videos-self-diagnosis-support/
- Yeung A. et al TikTok and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study of Social Media Content Quality. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry [Internet]. 2022 Feb 23 [cited 2022 Sep 22]; Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/07067437221082854
- NHS. Symptoms ADHD [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 22]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/
- NHS. Causes ADHD [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 23]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/causes
- ADHD Uk. ADHD screening tool [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 22]. Available from: https://adhduk.co.uk/adult-adhd-screening-survey/
- NHS. Treatment ADHD [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 23]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/treatment/
ADHD and TikTok: why is everyone talking about it? was last modified: September 27th, 2022 by