I'm going to start by leaving some stats on the table for later (aren't stats dull?)
Then I'll tell you a story.
UK population over 16 years of age: 52,715,000
% of adult population statistically with ADHD: 2.5%
Therefore number of over 16s with ADHD: 1,317,875
% of those individuals formally diagnosed with ADHD: 10%
Number of undiagnosed ADHD adults in the UK: 1,186,088
Of these 1.2 million undiagnosed adults, more than one in three will be receiving medication, counselling or therapy for a mental or emotional problem. This is compared to one in 10 of the general population.
Most of these adults will be completely unaware they have ADHD.
I was one of them.
In late December last year, aged 44, I painfully drove to a railway viaduct a few miles from my house and only just stopped myself from jumping to my death.
I was in an incredibly raw state of overwhelm, due to the breakdown in a working relationship with my then business partner, and genuinely felt as if my daughters, partner and the wider world would be better off without me.
It was then that a psychiatrist mentioned Adult ADHD, and that a misdiagnosis had possibly been given three years previously of bipolar type II. This was following my first suicidal crisis resulting from the stress of divorce proceedings.
Despite the flag for referral, this wasn't to be. The community mental health team didn't think I had ADHD. I remember a psychiatrist previously telling me: "You don't look like you've got ADHD".
I'd always felt different, a failure, beating myself up for not fulfilling my potential. Two marriages, two divorces. Never quite making my life 'work' smoothly like everyone else.
Desperate for answers, I sought a diagnosis myself. I had to pay privately, due to a woeful lack of provision for diagnosis and pathways for assessment in this country.
I truly believe that not only did this decision transform my life, but saved it. Everything felt EASIER through medication. No longer the constant motorway of thoughts and ideas at such speed, but calm stillness.
Still me, still full of enthusiastic ideas and a feisty spark to change the world, but a better version. Like a car that previously spluttered through life with an engine problem but was now fixed. 80% of people treated with medication for ADHD find it of significant benefit, as I did.
No more overwhelm. Less tired, more focused, more able to get the boring, necessary stuff done. Still with the same emotional depth, but I could now choose how to react. A pause for thinking time that 'neuro-typical' people take for granted, but had never been available to me before. I felt WELL. At peace.
Yet the reaction of others to my news was surprising, and so was the ignorance:
"I don't believe in ADHD. It's just trying to medicalise your personality and normal behaviour"
"I am a bit disorganised and untidy and distracted too at times! I don't think that means you've got ADHD."
"You aren't on that Ritalin stuff that turns kids into zombies, are you? "
"You don't look like you've got ADHD. Are you sure?"
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common, chronic, and
highly treatable neuro-developmental condition affecting attention,
hyperactivity, and impulsivity. There's plenty of information available, and its existence should no longer be up for debate.
I like to describe it to others as an inability to direct and control both my attention AND my emotions as effectively as neuro-typical people. This is due to differences in my brain structure, and also the ways in which parts of my brain produce and process different neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine.
Sadly, stigma and ignorance are rife. The irony is that most children and adults are under-diagnosed in the UK. Many areas have no service or provision AT ALL for ADHD. For the regions that do, often the waiting lists for assessment are more than two years long.
In addition, there is a constant battle against lack of awareness, even among some medical professionals, teachers, the police, social services...the list continues.
This has a serious financial impact on stretched public services. I alone must have cost mental health services thousands, just with my couple of crises. I have a family member in CAMHS, a hugely underfunded service, that has only just been diagnosed with ADHD. The talking therapies offered were never going to help her balance her brain chemistry.
Savings can be made not just across mental health, but other areas of health, like addiction services. 30% of addicts have untreated ADHD.
Education, work and benefits, the justice system - you name it. All seriously drained of resources and money, by a condition that can be very successfully treated with relatively low-cost medication. 45% of young offenders behind bars have ADHD, and 30% of adult prisoners. On medication, their offending can be reduced by up to 41%. It can cost six figures to keep a young offender in an institution for a year.
I did a speech at a political conference recently, highlighting the vast costs to society in both financial and social terms of not recognising and treating ADHD for both children and adults.
But this transcends party politics - this is vast. The savings we make for the public purse will likely be BILLIONS, the difference to human lives immeasurable.
At ADHD Action, we are working together with other ADHD organisations to not only call for an All Party Parliamentary Group for ADHD, but an ADHD Act of Parliament.
With an ADHD Act, the government will be obliged by law to make adequate provisions for children and adults with ADHD, including properly scoping out what's needed across health, education, justice and more - and making sure that happens.
It's time to fight for change. Take another look at those stats at the beginning. I founded ADHD Action so no one else has to get to the edge of the viaduct as I did. You can help us make sure that happens too.