What could ADHD and workaholism possibly have to do with one another?

We’ve screwed up talking about ADHD.

It’s easy to attach your worth to your accomplishments, behaviors, and status. It makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s how we value everything. If something performs well, like an iPhone, then it’s worth a whopping $700. We tend to do that with people, too. If you see someone not “performing” well in their schooling, then it’s easy to label them as stupid, immature, or worthless. Adults and children with ADHD endure the pangs of unreachable standards everyday of their lives.

WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY THAT IS TERRIBLE AT ACCOMMODATING OR DISCUSSING MENTAL ISSUES.

ADHD being tied to workaholism could just be one of the many ways people with ADHD work to make up for their “shortcomings” as a result of their neurobiological difference.

Here’s the breakdown of the research that’s been done on this ADHD-workaholism correlation:

  • 32.7% of workaholics have symptoms of ADHD (compared with 12.7% of non-workaholics).
  • Researchers think that the impulsive nature of people with the condition compels them to take on more work than they can handle. Others may work excessively to compensate for their shortcomings caused by their disorder.
  • Those afflicted with the condition are more prone to attempting suicide.

Workaholism isn’t a result of ADHD, it’s a result of the social discourse surrounding the condition. We suck at talking about mental health and accommodating those who are afflicted with conditions like ADHD. If a kid in class is constantly fidgeting and has difficulty concentrating, then the teacher would see his behavior as problematic and would discourage it. What if the student is actually passionate about dancing, or learns kinesthetically? What if a standard form of educational development for all children simply doesn’t work in the incredibly diverse pool of humanity? Really, think about it.

Yes, ADHD has its neurobiological basis, but its basis in social discourse is fraught with misunderstanding.

It’s incredibly easy to brand this mental condition with a social defect, because its symptoms are associated with impulsivity or a lack of concentration. What if the symptoms are actually attributes? Instead of marginalizing those with the condition, we could accommodate their needs and create environments that are flexible for different mental states. It makes me wonder if this correlation between workaholism and ADHD would even exist under those conditions.

I mean, think about what’s behind the term workaholism.

The voice that dominates the minds of those with the condition: “You’re not good enough. Work harder.” I would argue that self-worth is the core of the issue here. Children with ADHD grow up in school environments that expect them to excel within the context of “normally functioning” children, which makes them feel flawed or inadequate. The shame and self-condemnation that these children are afflicted with doesn’t go away — it seeps into their adulthood as they work to overcome that shame through, you guessed it, workaholism.

So, this leaves us with a pretty uncomfortable thought:

What if we have to change the way we think about mental health?

The research behind this stuff tells a much scarier story than most of us want to believe. I know it seems a bit far-fetched, but this thought shouldn’t be surprising. I mean, we just developed the term “workaholism” for something people do all the time: working to overcome some form of shame and living a performance-based life. That’s terrible, and it’s not properly addressed in social discourses. The same applies to ADHD. Why would we raise a generation of people with ADHD who are doomed to living a life filled with feelings of inadequacy?

Could we not alter the way we chose to educate those crippled by mental disorders?

Could we not then create a happier, and even more efficient society?

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