I have ADHD. I take pills every day because they make my life, and that of my family, better. They help me function and to do the things most people take for granted.
One in 20 people is like me. Yet despite how common ADHD is, and how profound the impact can be, it is hard to get people to take it seriously. Furthermore, there are growing voices claiming that the medication I take is part of the problem.
So let me set the record straight on a few things about ADHD:
– I am not making it up. Brain scans would show you that I am just wired a little differently.
– I do not constantly run around bouncing off the walls. ADHD comes in three types. I am more on the inattentive side. But even for those on the hyperactive side, most will learn to sit still; however, their mind might be racing and sitting still comes with huge effort and stress.
– I am not a zombie. Yes, I take medication, but it is actually a stimulant. The notion that ADHD drugs make people zombies ignores the pharmaceutical facts.
When I first spoke out in parliament, lots of people said I was brave, congratulating me for having the courage to speak about my personal experience.
I’m not sure that’s deserved.
First, I actually think having ADHD helps me in my job as an MSP. I think that reduced inhibitions about speaking up is important when we represent people. People with ADHD are likely to be interested in lots of different things. Our minds can work on tangents and sometimes that lets us see the big picture and connections others fail to make.
Second, I am sure I am not the only politician out there with ADHD. Statistically, there must be others in the Scottish Parliament, and many in Westminster.
But sadly, the reality is that, as someone with ADHD, I am more likely to be in prison than in parliament.
The rate of ADHD in the prison population is four times the rate in the general population. That is tragic and a sign of failure.
I am leading a debate in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow to discuss ADHD for the first time in two decades of devolution. We will be talking about medication, and how it is the first line of therapy for adults with ADHD.
Recently, sensationalist TV documentaries have tried to suggest that we are overmedicating, over-diagnosing, and overstating ADHD. That’s irresponsible and wrong. I hope my debate put this back in context.
I want to use my diagnosis and my platform to raise the standard of public debate on this important condition. I want to talk less about ill-informed, sensationalist claims, and more about diagnosis, education, waiting times and adjustments in the workplace.
We will only make progress in our understanding of ADHD if more people are willing to speak out and share their experiences. I hope my actions and of the debate will help with that.
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern