Health First: Focusing with ADHD

Education and therapy can overcome stigma of misunderstood disorder

Pete Quily was shocked when a park board commissioner shamed another for spending park board money on coaching to help her with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.

“As someone who has ADHD, has coached adults with ADHD for a decade, runs the Vancouver Adult ADD Support group and has a large website and blog on ADHD, I know the harm of stigmatizing people with ADHD,” Quily told the Courier in an email.

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“Some ADDers refuse to get diagnosed or treated because of stigma, many hide in the ADHD closet, many self-medicate with drugs and alcohol,” he continued, adding that studies have shown teens and adults with ADHD think about and attempt suicide more often than those without the disorder and have higher rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation questioned untendered contracts received by a consultant, including a $4,480 business-coaching fee in 2012 for then park board chair Sarah Blyth. The queries were echoed in tweets by elected NPA representatives.

Blyth wrote on her Facebook page about feeling stigmatized after being accused by NPA park board commissioner Melissa De Genova of “playing the poor me card, the disability card.” The issue garnered the attention of activist Jamie Lee Hamilton and other Vision Vancouver park board commissioners, and the post was shared by the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities. The Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada also blogged about the incident.

What is it?

ADHD is defined as:

  • a mental health condition
  • a neurological condition
  • a “highly genetic condition,” according to psychiatrist and ADHD specialist Margaret Weiss.
  • ADD is ADHD without the hyperactivity component, and Quily says most people use the terms interchangeably.

Symptoms include:

  • Problems with attention, for example with attending to final details of a project or remembering appointments and obligations.
  • Impulsivity, including talking too much in social situations, interrupting others or finishing their sentences.
  • Hyperactivity, including being restless, fidgety and having difficulty unwinding.
  • With multiple responsibilities, information overload and multiple distractions, it can seem difficult to determine what’s part of a busy lifestyle and what’s a disorder.

“Everybody has some of the symptoms of ADD some of the time,” Quily said.

But a diagnosis is based on the prevalence of symptoms in one or more areas over time.

Who has it?
Quily recommends completing an online ADHD screening test. He links to a test created by Harvard University on his website.

  • Five to nine per cent of children have ADHD, according to Weiss.
  • Between four and five per cent of adults have ADHD, according to Weiss.
  • 90 per cent of adults with ADD are undiagnosed, according to Quily.
  • Other disorders that include depression and anxiety often accompany ADHD.

Getting help
Screening test results may indicate you should seek a proper diagnosis. Quily emphasizes you should see someone who’s actually trained in the field of ADHD. But he says in B.C. this can be difficult to achieve. Quily maintains a list of Vancouver area doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists who diagnose and treat ADHD. He emails the list out, on request.

Weiss runs an ADHD clinic in West Vancouver and headed an ADHD clinic at B.C. Children’s Hospital that for five years welcomed adults, who composed half the client list.

Despite a year-long waiting list for adults, Quily says it was eventually decided treating them there fell outside the clinic’s mandate.

Quily says 15 peer-reviewed studies reveal 21 to 45 per cent of prisoners have ADHD, so the provincial government should fund treatment.

“Even if you don’t care about us as humans, it’s tremendously expensive to ignore us,” Quily said.

Quily says medication can help balance brain chemistry. Therapy can help individuals heal past experiences and better face the future, and coaching in time management, prioritizing and, in some cases, social skills, can help adults with ADHD flourish.

The upside
Despite its drawbacks, Quily notes ADHD can give those who experience it a competitive edge.

“If we’re interested, we can focus more than anybody else in the room,” he said.

“We have a fast processing brain. Because we don’t filter so much, we’re more creative,” he continued. “We can see solutions that other people can’t see. We have more energy.”

Quily “self-medicates” with research and he’s compiled a comprehensive website and blog about ADHD. For more information, see

For further information go to: ADHD and Addiction: What’s The Connection?

This story has been modified since it was first posted.

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