Actor Fahadh Faasil's ADHD diagnosis highlights growing awareness and challenges for adults

A few days ago, actor Fahad Faasil revealed at a public event that he had been recently diagnosed with the condition. TNIE speaks to experts to get a clear understanding of the condition and its treatment
Actor Fahadh Faasil's ADHD diagnosis highlights growing awareness and challenges for adults

KOCHI: There have been a lot of discussions on ADHD or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adults in recent times. Following the pandemic lockdowns, several studies and awareness programmes were initiated globally to address the condition. 

According to the World Health Organization, ADHD is “one of the most common mental disorders” that “affects 5–8% of children, mostly boys, and often lasts into adulthood”. 

Yet, ADHD has remained highly underdiagnosed in many parts of the world, including India. Initially considered to be a ‘childhood problem’, an increasing number of adults have been approaching mental health professionals to address its symptoms. 

On Sunday, while speaking at an event organised by Peace Valley in Kothamangalam, actor Fahadh Faasil opened up about being diagnosed with ADHD — at the age of 41.

Fahadh highlighted how difficult it was to treat ADHD when the diagnosis and the treatment begin late, well into one’s adulthood. His speech served as a reminder that ADHD is not merely a childhood disorder that disappears with age.

According to The World Federation of ADHD International Consensus Statement, the disorder occurs in 5.9 per cent of youth and 2.5 per cent of adults. Mental health experts in Kerala also point out that chances of mis- and under-diagnosis are higher for adults. 

Dr U Vivek, consultant psychiatrist at Renai Medicity in Kochi, explains one of the “many cases” he recently came across. “A father brought in his son, who was showing symptoms of ADHD. He was hyperactive, and couldn’t concentrate or sit still. These are a few common symptoms,” he says. 

“As I started asking more questions and explained that the boy’s condition was called ADHD, the father wondered whether he could also be suffering from the same.” 

The father, too, had similar behavioural issues like hyperactivity and lack of attention during childhood. “However, he was never treated for it. And now, his symptoms were different,” says Dr Vivek. 

“He couldn’t focus on any task. As a mechanic at an oil rig, where mathematical calculations play an important role, he often made mistakes, resulting in huge losses. “Now, the father and son are my patients. And, with treatment, there is considerable change for the better in their lives.”   

Experts explain that, typically, symptoms of ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder, become visible in childhood. They are easily manageable with treatment if detected early. However, studies caution that there is a 60 per cent chance that the symptoms carry over to adulthood.

They can be mild, moderate or severe, manifesting as hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, or a combination of both. The treatment ranges from mindfulness training, where patients are given guidelines and tools to focus on the present, concentrate, and manage time, to medications that need to be taken for months.  

Dr Vivek adds that adults with ADHD often have difficulty with decision-making and managing time. “So treatment will be focused on helping them function better in their day-to-day life. It provides them with tools to manage time such as maintaining a detailed calendar and diary to keep track of all the tasks,” he says.

According to Dr Sanoj Jacob of the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kozhikode, adult ADHD is under-recognised mainly because of the difficulty in detecting the symptoms and the stigma over seeking psychiatric help.  

“People have a misconception that ADHD means just hyperactivity,” he says. “However, it can manifest differently. Attention deficiency, forgetfulness, lack of concentration and patience, getting easily distracted, etc, are some of the symptoms displayed by adults. Some people with ADHD struggle to wait in a line, or a traffic signal.” 

Just like the myriad of possible symptoms, the reasons for ADHD are also several.

“Genetics, low levels of dopamine in the brain, premature birth, being underweight at the time of birth, head trauma, etc., are some of the reasons,” explains Dr Arun B Nair, professor of psychiatry at Government Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram. 

He notes that people with ADHD often get misjudged as lazy, inefficient, or irresponsible. He also has a word of caution on addiction. Recently, an IT professional, who was suffering from methamphetamine addiction, approached Dr Arun. 

“During lockdown time, he had started depending on the digital world to pass the time. But when he returned to his office, he couldn’t concentrate on tasks. He started making many mistakes during coding. Then, apparently, his friends suggested that he try meth as a stimulant. Unmindful of the perils, he started using the substance, and, over time, became an addict.” 

Dr Arun found that the patient had been primarily suffering from ADHD. “As therapy and medication started for ADHD, he started improving. Now, he has gotten over the addiction and his quality of life has improved,” he adds.

“That said, it does not imply that all addictions are due to ADHD. However, if untreated, ADHD can be a cause for addiction — be it digital, alcohol, or drugs.”   

Dr Xavier P J, senior psychiatrist at VPS Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi, concurs, adding that the precise diagnosis is vital. “Many adults who display symptoms of hyperactivity may be presenting with addiction, rather than ADHD,” he says. 

“For instance, they will not be able to keep track of a conversation, jump from one topic to another, and may appear restless. Recently, a male nurse came to me, seeking help for ADHD. Later, however, it was found that he was addicted to meth.”    

Aparna Rajeev, a psychology professor at Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth, explains that there is no specific test for diagnosing ADHD.

“Usually, diagnosis is made using a detailed medical exam, which helps rule out other possible causes, evaluating information such as the medical history of the patient and family, childhood behavioural issues, and work performance,” she says.

Another gap that contributes to underdiagnosis is the difference in symptoms displayed by girls and women, says clinical psychologist Sreeja Pillai. “It is generally said that ADHD is more often found in boys rather than girls. That is because often girls mask the symptoms,” she says. 

“Symptoms such as lack of attention and focus, daydreaming, rapid speaking, impulsivity and moodiness are often brushed aside as girls or women being shy, timid, or not studious. Since physical hyperactivity is easily noticeable, it is easy for parents and teachers to notice the symptom in boys.”

Sreeja, however, notes a positive trend of more people coming forward to seek medical help. “Some approach with self-diagnosis, and the actual issue might not be ADHD. But it is always better to self-diagnose and consult a doctor, rather than totally ignoring the symptoms,” she says.

‘Understanding ADHD helped me’

Manasa R, a journalist, was diagnosed with ADHD in her mid-20s. Soon after, she discovered she had autism, too. “Only then was I able to understand the challenges and difficulties I experienced all my life. With late diagnoses, there is additional trauma from all the negative life experiences,” she says. Manasa faced associated conditions such as anxiety and depressive spells. However, by understanding herself better, she was able to manage her symptoms. “Now that I have the knowledge, tools to help myself and support from people, it’s become easier to navigate the difficulties. It doesn’t mean the challenges have gone away. It is still very, very, very difficult to be a neurodivergent person in a world that has set neurotypical, ableist norms,” she says. “Reading about my condition and talking to people dealing with similar symptoms have immensely helped me manage my condition better. Knowledge is empowering and reduces the shame we have lived with all our lives.” 

Adult ADHD symptoms

  • Impulsiveness

  • Disorganisation and problems prioritising

  • Poor time management skills

  • Problems focusing on a task

  • Trouble multitasking

  • Excessive activity or restlessness

  • Poor planning

  • Low frustration tolerance

  • Frequent mood swings

  • Problems following through and completing tasks

  • Hot temper

  • Trouble coping with stress

Courtesy: Mayo Clinic

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