Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. We’ve all heard about it and likely know some people who have it. But the stereotypes of the hyperactive young boy who can’t sit still in class often get misconstrued with the larger picture of people who are affected by ADHD. These stereotypes leave out young adults and adults of all genders with ADHD, despite an increasing number of people being diagnosed with ADHD as adults. On top of this, while ADHD occurs in at least 5 percent of children and 4 percent of adults worldwide1, these numbers don’t include the unknown number of people living with undiagnosed ADHD, as it remains an under-recognized and underdiagnosed psychiatric disorder.
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by patterns of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention that may interfere with ones functioning and daily life2. People with ADHD may also have difficulty with executive functioning and regulating emotions. In addition to this, current research finds that ADHD presents in girls and boys in different ways. While girls are more likely to experience symptoms of low self-esteem and inattentiveness, boys are more likely to display external symptoms like fidgeting and impulsivity2. This difference in the display of behavioural problems often means girls can be overlooked for evaluation and are diagnosed with ADHD far less.
What does this look like for post-secondary students dealing with ADHD?
As someone who suffered with undiagnosed ADHD for most of my adolescent life, I know how hard it is to deal with symptoms you can’t explain and don’t have answers for. Myself and many people I know have even been misdiagnosed with other disorders, and struggled when treatment for those disorders didn’t address the issues we were facing. Growing up I often felt lazy and like I could never get my life organized. I dealt with mood swings, impulsive behaviour, and had a difficult time coping with the stress in my life no matter how small it may have seemed (If you’re thinking this sounds like you too — surprise! — these are all symptoms of ADHD). It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with ADHD in my first year of university and started receiving treatment for it that I started to learn useful and effective coping mechanisms that helped my mental health incredibly.
Because ADHD symptoms are so similar to the symptoms of many anxiety and mood disorders it can be hard to diagnose. But recognizing ADHD and its impact on mental health, especially in post-secondary students already dealing with heightened stress from classes and other mental health struggles, is incredibly important. In my opinion, students in post-secondary settings represent a unique experience as they transition to adulthood, one that is greatly influenced and shaped by the presence of ADHD.
A study published in 2018 examined the relationship between substance use, depression, and academic functioning among ADHD and non-ADHD post-secondary students. Its findings suggested that students with ADHD were more likely to binge drink, reported higher depressive symptoms, and had lower GPA’s then their counterparts without ADHD3. This paints a harsh picture of the realities many post-secondary students face when grappling with ADHD and the demands of university courses, but if I know anything I know that some of the smartest and most academically successful people in my life are diagnosed with ADHD. These are people who overcame the barriers that are present in post-secondary institutions, by developing coping mechanisms, doing their best to care for their mental health, and using the resources available to students with ADHD.
What can you do about it?
With exam season coming up and many students experiencing stress from classes right now, it can be a difficult time to manage your tasks, especially if this is something you struggle with already. That being said, there are many resources offered on and off campus for students with ADHD:
1. The CAL Centre
The Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) at UVic works with faculty and students to provide academic accessibility and educational equity4. Students with ADHD, a learning disability, a mental health condition, a physical or sensory disability, or a chronic health condition are encouraged to register with the CAL Centre for academic accommodations.
I registered with the CAL Centre in my second year at UVic, and although I found the requirements and process to register tedious and tiresome, it was 100% worth it. The accommodations I received helped tremendously with many of the barriers I faced during exams due to my ADHD, and receiving help for these things made me feel more confident in my studies.
2. UVic Libraries
If you’re like me and can’t stand the thought of trying to get work done around any distractions, UVic has many quiet study spots that can allow you to focus on your work. The Diana M. Priestly Law Library is a silent library located in the Fraser Building. With high ceilings and spacious cubbies to work at, this is a great place to get work done if you like to study in a quiet space. If you’d rather work on the other end of campus, the silent floors at the McPherson Library offer the same quiet space, and are a great alternative.
3. The Student Wellness Centre
The Student Wellness Centre at UVic consists of a team of counsellors, doctors, nurses, and spiritual care providers that can support and provide resources for students struggling with mental health. Their website also has resources like SupportConnect, offered 24/7, for anyone who would like to speak with a qualified counsellor over the phone.
4. Mental Health Events Calendar
Upcoming events and activities related to mental health are posted on the UVic Mental health events calendar. These include meditation classes, movie nights, and religious gatherings. (Ps. Meditating is crazy helpful if you’re struggling with anxiety and racing thoughts, so if you’ve never tried it, consider going to a meditation class to learn more about it!)
5. ADHD Comics
If you’re a sucker for comics like me, and perhaps trying to make sense of your own ADHD, there are many insanely talented artists drawing about their own experiences with ADHD and sharing them online. One of my favourite artists is Pina Varnel, or @ADHD_Alien on Twitter5, and I find it really comforting to see some of the experiences I often feel like no one understands, sketched out in an entertaining and relatable way.
Overall, it’s clear that ADHD has some unique impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of post-secondary students. But if I could get through four years of classes with ADHD and anxiety, then so can you. Get outside, study wherever works best for you, and don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re going through a tough time and need someone to talk to. Discovering coping mechanisms that work for you might not happen overnight, but you can succeed in your classes and make meaningful connections during your years at university.
And if no one’s told you recently, I believe in you! You got this.
- ADHD Facts/Stats (facts and myths). Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://caddac.ca/understanding-adhd/in-general/facts-stats- myths/.
- Herndon, J. (2021, May 3). Is ADHD considered a mental illness? Healthline. Retrieved November 02, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/is-adhd-a-mental-illness#adhd.
- Mochrie, K. D., Whited, M. C., Cellucci, T., Freeman, T., & Corson, A. T. (2018). ADHD, depression, and substance abuse risk among beginning college students.Journal of American College Health, 68(1), 6–10. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2018.1515754
- 4. Centre for Accessible Learning. University of Victoria. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.uvic.ca/services/cal/.
- 5. ADHD Alien. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://adhd-alien.com
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.