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ADHD In Adults

Oct/22/2023 / by Brian Sodoma

The disorder may be more prevalent than we believe

South Asian woman in formal clothes confused at work
Photo via Shutterstock

Mental health awareness has grown tremendously in the past decade. Today, research shows that in the U.S., one in five adults live with a mental illness, and one in seven in India contend with one. The neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), is one challenge that has been a strong part of this evolving narrative.

About 3% of adults in the U.S. and in India have ADHD, estimates Dr. Sid Khurana, psychiatrist and co-founder of Nevada Mental Health, a psychiatric practice in Southern Nevada. He has seen South Asian research findings that range between 1% and 4% but notes that data is only gathered from those seeking treatment. There are likely many others who have ADHD but who are not seeking treatment, he believes.

“Research in South Asian populations is very limited, but you have to remember that 20 to 30 years ago, we were not even discussing these things,” he says.

Perspectives around ADHD have shifted as well. In the past, it was only viewed as a childhood disorder. Now, more diagnoses are seen in adults, and patients are seeking treatment, too. Here, Khurana and another expert discuss ADHD and how it shows up in adults, including South Asian women.

ADHD Symptoms

If you are a working professional, you may have encountered a certain type of colleague on your career path – the one who is easily distracted, daydreams through meetings, often runs late, and may always appear flustered or disorganized. Sadly, the behavior probably continues at home. They forget half the items on the grocery list, pass exits on the freeway and constantly lose their car keys. Chances are, this mental disarray has been in place since childhood, Khurana says.

“With ADHD, the symptoms are the same for adults as with children, but the environment is different,” he explains. “A child with ADHD has problems in school, at extracurricular activities, on the playground. In the adult world, the problems are still there, they’re just with relationships, work, driving, banking, the typical adult things.”

ADHD may also be disguised alongside comorbidities like anxiety or OCD. Many times, it is revealed when a person hits a crisis point, such as the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or parental responsibilities after childbirth, adds Dr. Sipra Laddha, a perinatal psychiatrist and founder of LunaJoy, which specializes in mental health support for women.

“Typically, ADHD is not what they (patients) come in for,” she notes. “These are usually high-performing individuals who have found ways to compensate for their ADHD throughout life. In cases where a woman has had a baby, with sleep deprivation, those systems for managing ADHD are no longer working.”

Effect On Relationships

Laddha also says there’s more to the condition than simply being disorganized. She calls ADHD an “executive function disorder,” which brings the inability to prioritize, plan, meet goals, and follow multi-step directions.

“If you have tasks all hitting at once, it’s hard to discern what’s important now or later,” she says. There is also the potential for mood changes and social awkwardness. “Socially, they may have trouble taking turns talking in conversations and blurt things out inappropriately.”

ADHD can affect relationships. Laddha sees cases where a spouse creates processes and systems in the home to keep the person with ADHD on task. These safeguards may even be needed at work, dynamics that can strain or end a relationship, affecting the patient’s self-esteem.

“They can’t keep a job or relationships and they start to question themselves, asking ‘am I good enough?’” Khurana notes.

Effective Treatment For ADHD

The good news is that the combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is extremely effective for ADHD. And now, with greater mental health awareness, more adults are diagnosed and open to help.

“Most adults are happy to receive some sort of treatment,” Laddha says. “They may have put an onus on themselves all these years of ‘I’m lazy and need to try harder.’ But now they know there’s this executive dysfunction and it helps them create a much clearer path forward.”

Mental health stigma, however, still exists, especially in South Asian populations, Khurana adds. It’s not uncommon for South Asian families in the U.S. to still embrace the model minority myth, emphasizing career success in highly academic fields, which can cloud perspectives about ADHD, assuming it’s not real.

Hope For The Future

But with more generations of South Asian families in the U.S. recognizing there are many pathways to success, the stigma can be reduced, Khurana feels. In fact, many who do overcome stigma and choose treatment learn that ADHD deficits can be turned into attributes.

“It’s the ability to see that ‘I’m not defective, my brain just functions differently,’” he says. “These are not all bad things. You realize the brain can go from one thing to another, and when people can control it better, they can be productive and enjoy a better quality of life.”

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