The Current

ADHD is the most common mental health disorder in kids but can 'ravage' adult life, says reporter

ADHD is the most prevalent childhood psychiatric disorder in Canada, but it's less understood in adults. Reporter Yashar Ali says ADHD can ravages their lives, and it's made that much harder by the fact that many others don't take it seriously.

ADHD can cut life expectancy by 9-13 years for some people, says clinical expert

ADHD is the most common childhood mental health disorder, according to the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada. But many people continue to feel its effects later into life. (Sarah Claydon/CBC)

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Yashar Ali is often left frustrated when he tries to explain the difficulties living with ADHD as an adult to friends or co-workers.

"People will say things like, 'Oh, well, everyone's ADHD these days,' which is just not true ... or people will say, 'Oh, you're procrastinating,'" said the New York Magazine and HuffPost reporter, who recently shared his story on Twitter.

It's not that people make jokes about the psychiatric disorder "with malice," Ali told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue. It's that they just don't understand.

Diagnosed at 13, Ali still has trouble staying organized, focusing on tasks, or starting projects — like his Twitter post, for example, which he said was swirling in his head for three weeks before he wrote it down.

"So when people say to me, 'Oh, I'm so ADD today, or I'm so ADHD today,' well, I'm that way every day," he said.

Broad health implications

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the most common childhood mental health disorder, according to the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada. But one expert says we need to start seeing it as a broader public health issue instead.

"For decades we've known that it's a mental health disorder that impacts education, occupational functioning, your social life and your emotional life," said Russell Barkley, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, Va.

"But beginning about a decade or more ago, we started to see papers … showing that there were health consequences."

People will say things like, 'Oh, well, everyone's ADHD these days,' which is just not true.- Yashar Ali

Researchers have found people with ADHD smoke tobacco, drink alcohol and eat high-carb "junk" diets more often than other people, have higher rates of obesity in adolescence and adulthood, face sleeping difficulties, and have higher rates of cardiac disease as a result of these health issues, Barkley told McCue.

Women with ADHD are also more prone to eating disorders, he added.

In his own study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders in December, Russell found ADHD can take several years off of a person's life — an average of about nine years for people diagnosed as children, and an average of 13 years for people whose ADHD persists into adulthood, he said.

"Talk about a gut punch," he said. "We were astounded at the result we got."

'Embarrassing' for adults

Left unchecked, Ali knows ADHD is something that "can ravage your life" and be "embarrassing" for adults to deal with.

In the past, he said, he's had to warn potential employers that he can't always concentrate in an open environment, and may need to "lock myself away" in another room to get things done.

His hope is that sharing his own story of living with ADHD as an adult helps other people understand it.

"I felt like … I should make other people more aware of the nuances of this disorder, which, you know, I have to live with, and millions of others have to live with," he said.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Jessica Linzey, Danielle Carr and Sarah-Joyce Battersby.