Vancouver health activist Pete Quily often quips that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are allergic to boredom.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, the coach who works with adults who have ADHD explained that they’re attracted to frenetic workplaces because these environments stimulate a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward-seeking behaviour.
According to Quily, who has ADHD himself, dopamine is in short supply in people with this condition, which is one reason they’re more susceptible to addictions. Among those he’s coached over the years have been many chefs.
“Not everyone is into cooking, but if you like it, you get your dopamine fix,” Quily said. “There’s always a crisis and chaos, you have to be thinking quickly on your feet, you get to be creative, there’s a deadline—it’s perfect.”
Another occupation that’s notorious for its deadlines is journalism, which is why Quily suspects that this industry has a higher percentage of people with ADHD than the general population. He also said there are likely plenty of politicians with ADHD, although only one local elected official, Vancouver park commissioner Sarah Blyth, has revealed this publicly.
“One of the worst problems with ADHD is the heavy stigma against it and the massive ignorance from all levels of society,” Quily said. “So if you want to reverse the stigma, a great way to do that is to provide facts, provide research, and provide stories by people who have ADHD or work with it.”
That’s the impetus behind B.C. ADHD Awareness Week, which runs from October 14 to 20. Quily and other volunteers with the Vancouver Adult ADD Support Group have partnered with 120 libraries and bookstores across the province to put up displays and posters to educate the public.
“You’re going to find books on ADHD for kids, teens, and adults, and books by ADHD adults who’ve written other books,” Quily said.
He noted that the terms ADHD and ADD are often used interchangeably, but that technically the condition is called attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity. The Mayo Clinic defines ADHD as a chronic condition marked by difficulty sustaining attention, low self-esteem, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour.
When asked which books he would recommend for anyone interested in learning more about the disorder, Quily paused for a moment before identifying his first choice: Delivered From Distraction by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey.
Next, he suggested ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau. His third recommendation is The ADHD Effect on Marriage by Melissa Orlov.
Meanwhile, the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance has stated that five to 12 percent of school-age children have this condition, making it the most common childhood disorder. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boys are far more likely than girls to have been diagnosed (13.2 percent compared to 5.6 percent). Quily hopes that by reducing the stigma around ADHD, more services will be made available to these kids.
“If you have a child in school with ADHD and they don’t have learning disabilities or severe behavioural disorders, which most don’t, they’re not required to get any accommodations—none, zero—despite having higher problems in school, higher suspensions, higher school dropout rates, higher suicidal thinking, higher suicidal actions, and high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, crime, car crashes, and eating disorders,” he said.
For years, Quily has been pushing the B.C. Liberal government to reverse its 2007 decision to close the only provincially funded clinic for adults with ADHD at B.C. Children’s Hospital. One of his chief concerns is that people with the condition are being misdiagnosed.
“Sometimes bipolar can look like ADHD, and sometimes ADHD can look like bipolar, and sometimes you can have both,” Quily said. “A big problem is people say it’s not ADD, it’s anxiety disorders. Or it’s not ADD, it’s substance abuse. Actually, comorbidity [having more than one condition] is the norm with ADHD, and that’s why it’s crucial to have medical professionals properly trained.”
People who have ADHD are sometimes prescribed stimulants, such as Ritalin, to improve their ability to concentrate. However, Quily said that if someone has bipolar disorder and is given a stimulant because of a misdiagnosis of ADHD, it can trigger mania.
He also pointed out that if a person has ADHD and is misdiagnosed with depression, he or she might receive SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These can boost levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin but reduce levels of dopamine, which is already in short supply in people with ADHD.
“It means you’ll be happier but less focused,” Quily quipped. “Less focused means you get less stuff done.”