Does Everyone Have ADHD?

Photo Rick Green Patrick McKenna ADHD Shirt
Does it seem like everyone suddenly thinks they have ADHD?

“Everyone has ADHD. It’s the internet and smart phones.”
“These days everyone has ADD.”  
“Yeah, everyone thinks they have it. Just try harder.”

Uh… No! Sorry, friend, but the whole world is NOT suddenly suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  When someone snorts, “Everyone has ADHD these days,” ask them 3 questions:

  1. Do you know what percentage of adults actually qualify as having ADHD?
  2. What percentage of them have actually been properly diagnosed?
  3. And, do you know what percentage of diagnosed adults are actually doing something about it? As in, any kind of treatment.

To which they will answer, “Uh… No.”

It Seems Like Everyone Has ADHD

So why do so many people believe there’s a sudden epidemic of ADHD? It certainly seems that more and more people are exhibiting ADHD symptoms:
Problems focusing, feeling overwhelmed, restless, struggling to follow through on tasks, or finish thoughts, or manage emotions. Nothing feels routine or simple…

The world is a whirlwind of change, coming at an ever accelerating pace. And there is more and more pressure to keep up to that pace – “I have to get the iPhone-38-Q!”

The media has long since given up on providing information and facts, to focus on the next ‘breaking story.’ We are bombarded by aggrieved pundits spewing innuendo and frightening, but groundless extrapolations, “If ‘x’ happens, our entire nation will implode!” Wages haven’t kept up with inflation, so we’re all working harder and longer. Spare a thought for people who have been designated as ‘essential workers’ but are earning a pittance.

So, yes, most folks are multitasking, they are ‘under the gun’, have too much to do, too much to manage, too much to to remember. Being stressed, struggling, rushing around, falling behind… they get a sense of what it’s like to have ADHD

How Common Is ADHD?

Those of us who actually have ADHD cannot ‘escape’ the constant feeling of it all being too much. The 3 to 4 % of adults who are struggling with a lifetime of restlessness, uneven attention, and impulsivity to the point that it’s sabotaging us, perhaps fatally, may envy those who only experience it for a few months. And if the COVID pandemic has given neuro-typical people a sense of what it’s like to have ADHD, imagine what it’s like for those of us who do! It’s like a double dose.

For example, although I haven’t had a 9-to-5 job in decades, I usually took weekends off. Yet, last Friday I was convinced it was Tuesday and I worked right through Saturday and Sunday.

My routine of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… has given way to Numbday Snoozeday, When-is-today, Blursday Fried-day, Sat-there-day, and my day of rest, Stun-day

Photo of Patrick McKenna watching TV in a store

There’s No Vacation From Our Overwhelm

With ADHD, this overwhelm can be constant. Even when lying on a beach, drink in hand. By all appearances at peace. Our mind is still racing, worrying, planning, fretting, wanting to do something. Restless, jumpy, bored, lost in spirals of thought…It never fully goes away. But it is not all bad news either.

Like many folks with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I credit it for some of my strong suits and successes. Especially once I knew what was going on.

Knowing Makes a Difference

A proper diagnosis is a gift. Finally understanding the cause, and finding the right tools to reduce your particular challenges. For me, that involved new habits. Changes in diet, practicing yoga, exercising, mindfulness, organizing tools, and at times, medication. Far more effective than paying a lot of money to fret under a tropical umbrella with a cold drink.

The Catch 22 is that building new habits takes time. Try sticking to anything that’s demands long-term commitment when you have ADHD!

What Should I Say to People Who Don't Believe In ADHD Meme

“ADHD Is Not Real

I have made progress when someone says ADHD isn’t real. For example, with great practice I have mastered the ability to smile and nod at an ‘Amateur Expert’. I don’t defend or attack.

In the early days, I would offer a thoughtful ‘Hmmmm,’ which hid the sound of me grinding my teeth. While I’m grinding my teeth, they might continue, ‘Everyone has bad days. Even I lose my keys.’ I then ask the person my three questions

Amateur Experts will admit that they have no idea what the rates of ADHD are, or if they are in fact rising. It’s especially confronting when I follow up with questions about the 18 core symptoms of ADHD, or the main subtypes.

I will explain that yes, the number of adults being diagnosed is rising. But it’s still far less than the estimated 25% of adults who actually have this disorder.

And what makes it a disorder? When it’s negatively affecting someone’s life. Sabotaging goals, relationships, career, finances, parenting. This puts us at a much higher risk of Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, and high-risk behaviours.

The ‘Amateur Experts’ never admit outright, ‘I have no idea.’ When asked to back up their ‘knowledge’ with some actual facts and figures, they deflect, ‘Well, everyone knows, I mean, just look around you’, at which point I look around me, and seeing nothing, shrug, and offer the facts… A veritable flood of them. Which, I used to believe, naively, would make a difference. Oh, what a fool I was.

Statistics! Facts! The Truth About ADHD!

You would have been proud of me expounding, ‘Actually, the rates of ADHD have stayed the same for decades.  Even as we’ve added more sugar in our diet, and started playing video games, the rate is the same as it was before the internet. It’s actually the same in societies that have almost no internet, no video games, and no mobile devices…’ 

They grow silent.  They nod.  They look thoughtful.

‘Aha!’ I think, ‘They are pondering my facts. My vast knowledge has opened their minds. They are reassessing the nonsense they believed and now realize how misinformed they were.’

Fat chance, Rick!

They were actually thinking, ‘What does he know?  He’s probably being paid by some drug company. He’s a comedian for cripes sake! How do I get away from him?’

That is why I don’t go into my information spewing mode any more. I explain my much better strategy in our video, Facing The World, but basically, I now respond with, ‘That is EXACTLY what I used to think! But then I learned….’ After sharing a surprising fact or two, I wait for them to ask questions. Which they almost inevitably do.

Asking them questions helps them recognize that they don’t have all the answers.

Understanding ADHD is Critical

It’s difficult to stifle the surge of outrage when I hear people spouting the same old nonsense, but then I bought into those myths before I was diagnosed. Being positive and inclusive, ‘That is EXACTLY what I used to think! ’ has proven to be a very effective response.

It is not easy to stay calm. People are dying from undiagnosed and untreated ADHD… From car accidents, self-medicating with drugs and booze, or by suicide from feeling like nothing but a failure.

You could argue that people who casually announce that ADHD is not real are partly responsible for those deaths. Because of these perpetuated myths and lies, millions of people who could be getting help are left feeling unsure. They wonder if maybe it really is just a character flaw – ‘Maybe I am stupid, lazy, week, broken, irresponsible, uncaring, looking for an excuse…’ ARRRGGHHH!!!!!

Sorry. It makes me angry.

We All Struggle With These Issues – Sometimes

No doubt many well-meaning people who quip, ‘Everyone has ADHD these days,’ mean that we are all dealing with increasing levels of stress. We’re all coping with more and more, and struggling to manage our commitments. Many folks think that’s what people with ADHD are experiencing.   

No.  Not really.

Adults and kids with ADHD are NOT coping. Rarely have been. That’s what makes it a disorder.

People with ADHD are NOT managing their schedules. 

We are NOT approaching the point of overwhelm.  We are already overwhelmed

Even sprawled on that beach vacation, we can feel overwhelmed. We’re sipping the Pina Colada, but not really tasting it. Lost in thought about what we’ve left undone, what’s awaiting us, how far behind we are…

I know, I know, I’m generalizing. Obviously, this isn’t the case for everyone with ADHD.

My ADHD Is Not Your ADHD

There’s a spectrum, from very severe to mild. I’ve been told I’m not severe. The term is High-Functioning. As well, many of us have the Restlessness / Hyperactivity and Impulsivity, some do not.

I have done a lot of work to manage my mind since getting the diagnosis. And that has made it far less of a problem for me.

For example, medication used to be a deal-breaker for me. But without it, I struggled. For a while, I relied mostly on caffeine. I only took a pill on the most hectic days, when I had a lot scheduled. A bit like my son with his Asthma Inhaler: Use As Needed.

When it felt like what the world is throwing at me was too much, I started taking medication again. The fact that my wife and I weaned ourselves off caffeine a few months ago was a factor in choosing to start medication again. If I am going to use a stimulant, I want a specific dose, the minimum I need. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary wildly.

So, is there a Pandemic of ADHD? No, but a LOT of people are struggling.

ADHD isn’t something you catch, or develop, or fall into. This is driven by our genes. But with everyone’s lives crammed with more to do, manage, and fret about, many people are experiencing the kind of overwhelm, confusion, forgetfulness, that those of us with ADHD live with 24/7.

P.S. – Wondering if you actually have ADHD? Try our quiz, it’s a great place to start.

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8 Comments

  1. Larynxa July 10, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    It’s like the difference between limping because you stubbed your toe, and limping because you were born with one leg 3 inches shorter than the other.

  2. daydream believer July 12, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    Take ADHD and then add gluten sensitivity! With two problems that people think are “imaginary” life gets really interesting!

  3. lindsey3 July 14, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you Rick. I am putting together an image, inspired by your Friday Funnies. I have taken a photograph of one of my wardrobes with the door shut, and then a photo of the door open – it is so chaotically stuffed from top to bottom that there isn’t any space for another single thing. This is a very simplistic and direct metaphor for my ADHD life – outside and inside. I showed them to a good friend, one who I thought understood, and he said ‘but everyone’s life is like this, what’s so special?’ just about missing every point I was trying to visually express, albeit in a light hearted way. So, as well as having ADHD – one disorder, and an anxiety disorder, that makes two disorders which I am trying so hard to deal with, I am not even supposed to feel ‘special’ in any way at all. Just who do I think I am?!
    This blog is very timely for me. You are wonderful.

  4. marlvs2sing1 July 14, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    OMGOSH! I’m in tears at this because I struggle so! When I look back on my 60 years of life, it all makes sense now. What you write about here and other blogs is so what I feel and have felt that it hurts! I’m tired of beating myself up for being who I BE!! Because I’m wonderful!! I just got medical, so I’m trying to weed through the list of things to get help with, but the process is so slow and I’m so frustrated! Rick, you hit the nails on their proverbial heads, and I thank you for this blog! This site and all that it entails has helped me to identify and be ok with this condition! I must tell you that my relationship of less than 2 years and subsequent marriage of 5 months ended sadly, because he blamed my ADD, but he never once watched anything with me to help me work things out. He refused counseling for his anger and abuse. I had to say bye-bye. I’m not so difficult to live with-he didn’t even live with me full time! So, he can use that excuse for leaving, but it is his loss. People, even my sisters, get angry at me saying it’s just an excuse. Don’t tell Mom she has ADD cus it’s just an excuse!!! Well…you should see our houses! It’s for real, and yes, I’m tired of the struggle;bone-weary-and-mentally-fatigued-tired. I care for my son who is 36, has Down syndrome, and some autism. You talk about overwhelm and the whole list!! Yes, that is me. Thank you, again, for the encouragement today! I’m thankful for you and Totally ADD! God bless you all!

  5. Rick July 23, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    So happy to know this made such a difference for you marlvs2sing1 and lindsey3.
    And I’m so glad the site makes a difference for you.
    I understand the pain of losing a relationship because a person is unwilling to understand what ADHD is. And sadly, I’ve lost friends because of that. But last night when we were interviewing a dozen ADHD Adults about their experiences with medication, one person talked about how some friends just never believed or accepted the idea of ADHD or of taking a medication for it. And he was a bit wistful, but he said something that was wonderful, which is that maybe those weren’t people he wanted in his life.
    But when it’s someone you love, and who says they love you… painful.

  6. redbandit14 October 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks Rick as always this one hit’s home.
    I’ve had a few particularly “bad” ADHD months lately, My wife thought I had checked out on our marriage, My type 1 diabetes has been pretty much out of control for few months and work has been overwhelming and really unproductive( Plus all the not work things I’m not doing is overwhelming me).
    Add to that the “Everyone is ADD these days,” or the ‘Add is made up” crowd and life gets pretty crap.
    I thought my Meds were no longer effective but It turns out that my thyroid took a huge drop and i probably have sleep apnea which is causing a lot of lost sleep. Which is crushing my ADD meds and making me more dopey than usual.
    So hopefully I’ll be back to my version of normal sometime soon now that My thyroid meds have been increased and I’m scheduled for a sleep study

  7. thelxiepeia August 14, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Another important fact:
    ADHD affects us physically.
    Coordination is one.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17994185
    It correlates to dyspraxia and ASD as well.
    Plus, there’s the case of ADHD and chronic pain.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652792/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4957360/
    This is all out there. People prefer not to look.

  8. bruce March 26, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    It’s a super power, a blessing that needs nurturing.

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