Introduction to ADHD
ADHD is a mental health condition which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Because it is a developmental disorder, it is rare or impossible for ADHD to develop while at university without it first appearing during childhood.
In universities in the UK, ADHD is one of the most under recognized conditions and hence under supported. Students with ADHD are often left without the appropriate support yet are expected to perform academically on the same level as others.
But why is this the case?
Well firstly there’s a lack of awareness about the condition and how it may affect the students – And that’s why I am writing this.
Secondly many students have been misdiagnosed, there is a high rate of misdiagnosing ADHD in the UK. A student will on average experience 3-4 misdiagnoses before the ADHD diagnosis is confirmed.
What is alarming is that many healthcare professionals (Mental Health nurses, Psychiatrists, General practitioners, Clinical psychologists, Neurologists) will probably confess that they are not ADHD specialists. Therefore, to get a reliable diagnosis, you may need to endure the process of seeing many professionals before a specialist psychiatrist who works with people with ADHD. This process may be onerous and could take time due to the few specialists around.
Why support is important for students
Because ADHD affects a student’s attention and concentration, it may negatively impact on their ability to reach their full academic potential. They may continually lose or misplace things or become more forgetful and find it hard to concentrate in class. This could be the reason why ADHD has been linked to poor academic outcomes. ADHD might not only make education difficult but also employment.
Symptoms of ADHD
The lack of rich research into this condition amongst students means that the symptoms are more difficult to delineate. In many cases ADHD symptoms continue from childhood to adulthood. From speaking to specialists and students diagnosed with ADHD, the following is a list of symptoms in university students:
- Difficulty focusing
- Poor organizational skills
- Often forgetting, misplacing, and losing things.
- Being on the edge and restless – similar to anxiety
- Inability to pay attention to detail
- Seeming careless
- Often starting new tasks before finishing old ones
- Irritability – getting upset quickly
- Difficulty keeping quiet
- Suddenly saying out responses and regularly interrupting others
- Finding it difficult to deal with stress
- Being impatience
- Engaging in risky activities with little regard for safety (to self or others) – for example, dangerous driving.
- Easily fatigued
How Symptoms may manifest in class
- The student will find listening and following instructions difficult.
- Being easily distracted and finding it difficult to concentrate and complete tasks.
- Finding it difficult to perform multiple tasks.
- Missing important details of assignments.
- The student will find it difficult finishing assignments and coursework.
- Extreme movements.
- Finding it difficult to foreplan
- Easily making mistakes
- Finding it difficult to sit still or stand up if necessary
- Inability to resolve Issues
- A temper, irritability, or impulsivity
- Unable to adapt to pressure
- Jumping, or moving wildly when they shouldn’t
Impacts on mental health:
Enduring all the above difficulties may lead to failing examinations and assignments.
This may leave a student feeling incompetent, thinking they are not smart enough, feeling miserable and under immense pressure. Consequently, their mental wellbeing may deteriorate.
Studies have indicated that almost half of students with ADHD have either depression or anxiety or both.
What causes ADHD
The lack of extensive research means the exact cause is not fully understood. However a combination of several factors are thought to play a part in its causation
- ADHD is thought to run in families inherited from the parents. This makes genetics a significant causative factor. Research reports that if your parents or siblings have ADHD, you are also likely to have ADHD.
- Brain function and structure – studies using scans have reported possible dissimilarities in the brains of people with ADHD from those without the condition, but the significance of these is not clear.
- Neurotransmitters Imbalances – studies have reported an imbalance in the level of the body’s chemical messengers of people diagnosed with ADHD, leading to the messengers not functioning properly.
- It is also believed that being born prematurely or with a low birthweight, or with brain damage puts one at high risk of being diagnosed with ADHD.
Because ADHD is very under recognized and often misdiagnosed, those who desperately require the treatment end up with no treatment at all. There may be some similarities with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) for example dyslexia and dyspraxia, and someone may have a diagnosis of both ADHD and an SpLDs. However, it is inaccurate and problematic for universities to categorize ADHD as a specific learning difficulty.
Treatment and Support for ADHD
A combination of both medication and Therapy is often the best – although each can be used without the other.
Treatment is usually arranged by a specialist psychiatrist. Typically, General Practitioners monitor ADHD and symptoms. Ask to be referred to a specialist for an ADHD assessment. Alternatively ask your wellbeing advisor at University to refer your for the assessment.
Medication is often used to treat symptoms rather than cure ADHD.
Therapy – CBT, Psychotherapy, family interventions – read here about the types of therapies https://blackstudentsmentalhealth.org/mental-health/
Psychoeducation – knowing about the condition can help you make sense of what you are experiencing, it also alleviates stigma and promotes positive discussions. For more psychoeducation read here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/treatment/
Click Here to find support services provided by your university in England and Wales
If you are struggling with deadlines – you may be entitled to Specialist Reasonable adjustments and or Extenuating circumstances – speak to a wellbeing adviser/Disability adviser.
For a list of support ADHD groups across the UK click visit AADD-UK
Click Here for ADHD Babes – A support group for Black Women and Non-Binary People with ADHD
Mind charity – click Here for ADHD and mental health