What is ADHD, really? What is being done to help those diagnosed with it?
Perhaps more importantly, what about the nearly 20 million diagnosed North Americans and millions of others “out there,” afraid or unable to be treated? What lies beyond it? And are they being properly diagnosed and treated? What if they aren’t?
These questions form the premise of Beyond ADHD, Jeff Emmerson’s 260-page personal and critical exploration of how ADHD came to pass, why it proliferated into one of the three most-prescribed conditions in medicine, and how we can get to the bottom of ADHD, its diagnosis — and find our way beyond it. Emmerson and co-author Robert Yehling spent three years digging into the numerous root causes and drawing out what is, in essence, a radical shift at the way we approach and treat ADHD. They found themselves tackling such startling facts as:
- Nearly 15 percent of all American children have received an ADHD diagnosis, along with an ever-increasing percentage of adults (now at 5 percent). Most have been treated with prescription drugs, now a huge core component of manufacturers’ annual revenue;
- At least 44 percent of Americans sleep less than six hours per night, according to National Geographic;
- Forty million Americans are on anti-anxiety medication, according to The Anxiety Toolkit author Dr. Alice Boyes;
- The general food supply is less nutritious, and filled with more harmful chemicals, growth hormones and obesity and hyperactivity-inducing ingredients, than ever (such as high-fructose corn syrup, a staple of the U.S. food supply);
- Our attitude toward ADHD has become laissez faire,rather than working aggressively toward better approaches to treatment, therapy and renewed purpose that already exist.
Within their work, Emmerson and Yehling kept arriving at the same questions: What if ADHD is really a catch-basin diagnosis that masks countless other possible issues or conditions? How would the lives of those diagnosed, as well as the course of society, be changed with a deeper look beyond the label? And what if this ADHD epidemic really reflects a larger problem of fractured attention in our society, workplaces and schools, caused by constant Internet and information bombardment, too much noise, our growing addiction to mobile devices, and the belief that we can fix any problem with a pill or a turn of our heads the other way?
Emmerson and Yehling interviewed many, doctors, behavioral specialists and thought leaders in the mental health field, learning quickly of the healthy skepticism of the ADHD diagnosis. Their resulting book is enthusiastically endorsed by, among others, Dr. Allen Frances, the former chair of the department of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, and chairman of the DSM-IV committee that set forth the current ADHD diagnostic guidelines in 2000.
“ADHD symptoms have probably been central to my entire life, but especially since 2011, when I was diagnosed at age 35 after a suicide attempt,” Emmerson says.“I have since made it my life’s purpose to be present for people and their families facing mental and behavioral disorders.”
Beyond ADHD begins in the office of Dr. Timothy Royer, a preeminent American neuroscientist and consultant to several National Basketball Association teams. “He broke down my ADHD diagnosis in a way I’ve never seen before,” Emmerson recalls.“The underlying factors of my challenging life opened right up from his comments, tests, and findings, one after another. I started to see the critical anchor points in my life, why my life was an unchecked series of broken relationships, lost jobs and countless sleepless nights trying to turn off my whirring brain. Dr. Royer’s findings and comments mark the first time I’ve received answers that made sense.”
The underlying premise that drives Beyond ADHD is this: the medical checklist diagnoses aren’t all they seem. “After going through my own diagnosing and medicating journey, it became frighteningly clear to me that there are some immense holes in diagnostic criteria,” Emmerson explains.“This was further validated when I worked in mental health units, witnessing how human beings are labeled with diagnoses such as ADHD based on faulty, arbitrary and subjective checklists. With more than fifty other conditions mimicking the symptoms of ADHD, it MUST become a diagnosis of exclusion. The identities, proper treatment and well-beings of millions of people are at stake here, as well as their brains, since much of the world follows the diagnosing practices of North America when it comes to ADHD.”
Emmerson illustrates the perspective he took in developing Beyond ADHD, the out-of-the-box thinking critical to better understanding how we got into a stuck space filled with 25 million prescribed individuals — and doctors, educators, parents, and concerned citizens who don’t know what else to do. “Is ADHD the result of our wildly curious, creative, quickly connecting minds being redirected into conventional living and thinking?” he asks.“What if we aren’t conventional? What if we nurtured the so-called 360-degree mind, or rather, returned to that natural awareness all of our ancestors had until technology and industry started diverting our attention? What if we embraced that more in schools, offices, community events, and our own lives?” He writes:
Beyond ADHD is written for parents, friends, families and citizens concerned with the current state of ADHD treatment, as well as healthcare and mental health professionals, educators, employers and others who are looking for greater and more sustainable solutions than the currently accepted protocol of long-term prescription therapy. It is also written with the near future in mind, imploring readers to stand up and build new bridges and ways of connecting with each other and developing our greater individual and group purpose.