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Why is ADHD Commonly Misdiagnosed?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorders in children. In the U.S., ADHD affects roughly 8 percent of children ages 3-17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), up to 60 percent of children with ADHD will experience symptoms through adolescence and into adulthood.).

Countless studies from reputable health organizations have been conducted on the causes, symptoms and treatment of ADHD. But a decisive ADHD diagnosis can often be difficult to pin down, especially in young children.

Core Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD encompasses a wide spectrum of symptoms. While the “attention deficit” and “hyperactivity” aspects of this disorder can occur separately, they coincide in cases of ADHD. Attention deficit characteristics include trouble listening, inattention to detail, forgetfulness, lack of organization and an inability to stay focused on a subject or activity. Hyperactivity symptoms include the inability to sit still,  the constant need to be in motion and excessive talking.

Not Hard to Misdiagnose

Some of the symptoms of ADHD can also be present in adolescent depression, bipolar disorders and other mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and mood disorders. While ADHD can occur in conjunction with another disorder, it is also possible for a child exhibiting symptoms common to ADHD diagnosis, to be actually be suffering from a different  problem altogether.

When a child is disruptive in class or has difficulty listening and cannot sit still at home, ADHD is often the first concern  a teacher or parent has. However, a recent Michigan State University study reports nearly one million children in the U.S. might  have been misdiagnosed with ADHD. This can translate into ADHD treatment such as medication being initiated too soon, which in some cases might have a negative long-term impact on a child’s health.

It is important for a child displaying ADHD symptoms to be thoroughly evaluated over a period of time by a mental health professional. Any initial treatment should begin with behavioral therapies in lieu of medication.

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Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate: Celebrity Struggles Well-Documented

In recent years, many high profile actors, politicians and athletes have opted to take the step of disclosing their battles with mental disorders to the general public.

In doing so, these people have elevated public awareness of conditions such as bipolar disorders, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD). In some cases, the decisions by these public figures to reveal their struggles have been the catalyst for everyday people to seek help for their own mental conditions.

Public Figures Reveal Mental Health Issues

After a stressful period in which she was caring for her cancer-stricken husband actor Michael Douglass, Catherine Zeta-Jones decided to check herself into a mental health treatment center. Zeta-Jones had reached a point where she was fluctuating between periods of joy and deep depression and knew she had to take additional action to address her condition. As a result of her decision to seek treatment, the famous actress discovered she had bipolar II disorder.

Not long ago, comedian and game show host Howie Mandel was officially diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and ADHD. After years of dealing with racing thoughts, an inability to sit still and obsessing over germs, Mandel decided to get help. After seeing improvements in his mental health with ADHD treatment and OCD treatment that included the use of psychotherapy and medication, Mandel is now a spokesman for these disorders and fights to diminish stigmas attached to them.

Mental health issues surrounding professional athletes have also come to the forefront. Reigning National League MVP Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds and boxer Mike Tyson both endured bouts of severe depression. Additionally, a Duke University study found that nearly half of all U.S. presidents have at some point battled mood disorders that include depression.

Mental illness is not something an individual should be embarrassed about or feel they have to keep secret. Numerous agencies and mental health centers offer treatment that allows individuals struggling with mental disorders to live normal and productive lives.

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Gaining Control of ADHD and Harnessing its Advantages

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can carry with it a variety of symptoms including hyperactivity, the inability to stay focused and impulsivity. Depending on the individual, these symptoms can manifest themselves in different ways.

ADHD is synonymous with the older term, “ADD,” and is commonly associated with children who have trouble paying attention and controlling their behavior. It is considered to be a mental disorder. Clinics and mental health centers across the country offer ADHD treatment to both children and adults.

More than 7.5 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. are said to be affected by ADHD, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study. If left untreated, roughly two out of three children will struggle with ADHD into adulthood and may end up suffering from depression or other mood disorders.

Treatment

Mental health treatment specialists will evaluate individuals suffering with ADHD on a case-by-case basis. Although some of the generally-accepted ADHD symptoms may exist such as inattentiveness, inability to complete tasks and extreme impatience and fidgetiness, each patient’s circumstances are unique.

A multi-faceted approach is usually employed in treating adults and children with ADHD. This can include antidepressant and stimulant medications as well as various forms of psychotherapy and behavior modification.

Learning to Harness ADHD

Despite some of the hardships experienced by those with ADHD, there are some potentially positive aspects. This is evidenced by the many achievers and famous people in our society with ADHD, such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison among many others, who believe it has benefited them in certain ways.

Many of these people attribute their energy and creativity to the symptoms associated with ADHD, in addition to their ability to apply great focus within the areas that interest them. They have turned the ADHD “weaknesses” into “strengths.”

Those with ADHD should take notice that not only can their disorder be controlled, but with focus and determination it is possible that they can use it to their advantage.

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Teen Depression: How Caregivers Can Help

C. Stephen Edwards, Director, Adolescent Psychiatry, Lindner Center of HOPE

Teen depression is a serious problem in the United States.  One in eight teens is likely to experience depression.  Teen depression is much more than just bad moods, growing pains or even feeling down.  Depression will impact every aspect of a teenager’s life.  It can lead to problems at school and at home, drug abuse, self-loathing, and even suicide or homicide.  As a caregiver, it is vital for you to understand the warning signs of teen depression.

Here is a quick guide to the behavioral changes of which you should be aware:

  • Sadness or Hopelessness
  • Irritability, Anger or Hostility
  • Frequent Crying
  • Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities
  • Changes in Sleeping or Eating Patterns
  • Restlessness or Agitation
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt
  • Fatigue or Lack of Energy
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Thoughts of Death or Suicide

When evaluating your teen or a teenager you love, consider how long these symptoms have been present, how severe the symptoms are and how much the teen’s behavior changed.

Do not assume your teen will show the same depression symptoms as an adult, as this mental illness will present itself in very different ways depending upon the age of the sufferer.  Teens are more likely to show irritability or anger instead of sadness, and may become grumpy or easily frustrated.  Teen depression can also manifest with unexplained aches and pains.   Be aware of any headaches or stomachaches that are not able to be attributed to a physical ailment.  Depressed teens will show an extreme sensitivity to criticism.  They have feelings of worthlessness, which makes them more vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure.

If you know a teen who is exhibiting these symptoms, you can help them find treatment.  Start by talking with the teen.  Express your concerns in a comforting, non-judgmental way.  Talk about specific behaviors and why those behaviors are concerning to you.  Visit a doctor and have your teen screened for depression.  This screening will include a physical exam and blood test to rule out any medical reasons that the teen may be experiencing symptoms of depression.

If there are no physical reasons for the symptoms, ask the doctor to refer you to a specialist.  Make sure you get the teen’s input.  Your teen is an important part of this decision.  He or she needs to feel comfortable with the specialist and the treatment setting or it will not help the recovery process.  It is imperative to find someone with whom your teen can connect.  Don’t be afraid to explore a variety of treatment options – from one-on-one therapy or group therapy to medication – until you find what works best.

Never be afraid to talk with your teen about depression!  In many cases, families are unaware of the symptoms of depression and they can easily miss the subtle signs.  Many parents and caregivers can mistakenly assume their teen will show the same symptoms as an adult.  Instead, learn the unique signs and symptoms of teen depression – it could mean the difference between life and death!

 

C. Stephen Edwards, Director, Adolescent Psychiatry, Lindner Center of Hope is the author of this article on mental health clinics, teen depression and mood disorders.  Dr. Edwards is board certified in general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and board eligible in pediatrics. As Director, Adolescent Psychiatry at Lindner Center of HOPE he oversees the adolescent inpatient and outpatient programs. He specializes in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and abuse prevention. The Lindner Center of Hope offers a level of service to patients, families and referring physicians not typically found in health care today.  The unique infrastructure provides access to cutting edge treatments years before they become widely available.