Maxine McCrann

TikTokers are demystifying ADHD with truth and just enough levity

The pandemic has spawned a lot of discussion about our collective inability to focus. “My ADD is out of control,” will flippantly fly out of people’s mouths. The reality is that ADD (the disorder now referred to as ADHD) involves much more nuanced challenges than just not being able to focus on a task.

For young people who are newly diagnosed, ADHD can actually be a very daunting diagnosis. Having the condition mentioned to casually by everyone doesn’t help. Thankfully, there are online communities to help people feel less alone, and address what it’s like to manage the disorder in a way that feels, well, manageable.

TikTok has been on the mental health beat in a really unique way this year, with both counselors and regular people who live with a range of mental conditions sharing their experiences freely and quite creatively. Although some accounts can spread disinformation, a rule of thumb when you're perusing is to stick to content that supports and encourages — and not one that offer baseless medical advice.

This is super important when it comes to ADHD, because it’s kind of misunderstood. For those unfamiliar: It’s one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in developing brains, and which means it’s often diagnosed during childhood. Aside from making it hard to focus, ADHD can make people feel unsettled as well as make it hard to control impulsive behaviors. These symptoms are not just annoying for someone with the condition — they can be disheartening and anxiety-inducing, too.

“ADHD has tremendous overlap with other mental health conditions,” says Barb Shepard, a Syracuse-based mental health counselor, including but not limited to anxiety disorders, trauma, and exhaustion. This is why it’s crucial to see your doctor if you think you might have it. “Wrongly diagnosing oneself may actually prevent a person from getting accurate treatment for their symptoms, which may involve specific types of therapies or medications.”

If you’ve been diagnosed, or love someone who has, community is everything — which is why TikTokers who approach ADHD with both compassion and levity have been so powerful. “If you don’t have ADHD, it can be difficult to understand what value lies in my videos, since a lot of the time it’s me discussing things I’ve forgotten to do or something I’ve lost,” Brianna Lee, a 22-year-old law student and paralegal, tells Mic.

Lee’s account is a good follow for anyone, because she stands in solidarity with those who struggle like she does, but informs and explains to those who don’t get it. Lee also isn’t didactic — in fact, many of her videos champion how integral a therapist is living with ADHD and feeling okay.

“When people with ADHD see accounts like mine, they see someone who is like them,” says Lee, whose TikTok account, @esorirb, has over 1.4 million likes. “I have the same experiences and struggles and understand how they can be both hilarious and debilitating at the same time.”

“I'd like people to realize that ADHD can manifest itself in a variety of ways,” says Alice, a.k.a the Mini ADHD Coach on Instagram. Alice (who goes by her first name only; think of her as the Beyoncè of ADHD) is also the author of Could It Be ADHD? (an ADHD workbook). “I know a lot of people with ADHD, and while we often battle with the same issues, we are all different in many ways.”

The range of symptoms and accompanying experiences is important to recognize, as Alice and her fellow ADHD educators note. TikTok user @drhallowell is a podcast host, author, and Boston-based psychiatrist living with ADHD who not only offers a perspective of a professional who diagnoses the condition, but offers first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to live a full, productive, and lucrative life with ADHD.

For those living with ADHD trying to thrive professionally, personally, and romantically, look no further than @thedarcymichael. The account follows comedian Darcy Michael, who lives with ADHD; his husband Jer — who is also neurotypical —stays adding a bit of levity to the everyday struggles he and his partner go through.

They’re really #couplegoals, y’all: whether it’s ordering pizza, setting the coffee maker, pharmacy troubles (followed by a video from a few days later showing an ADHD crash.) While all of these videos are full of love and comedy, they show the very real wrenches that can be thrown in people's lives while living with the condition.

“A potential upside in finding people on social media who also struggle with ADHD is that it tends to destigmatize it,” says Holly Schiff, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based psychologist. When you see others being open and transparent on social media platforms about their mental health struggles, it takes away any of the embarrassment, shame, or feelings of isolation, she adds.

And I said it before, but it’s worth drilling in: Be selective about the mental health conversations you enter on TikTok. While there are some great accounts, there are also both intentional and unintentional jerks and liars lurking.

“From a mental health perspective, there is the possible downside that impressionable people may be more inclined to identify with an account because there is some glitz or glamour gained from followers and the amount of likes,” Schiff says, recalling the dangerous influence social media can have on people. Relying on social media for your medical health (instead of using it as a part of your overall support system) can lead to detrimental and destructive habits, she says.

In the age of the Buss It Challenge and exotic animal TikTok, it might be hard to see above the fray when you’re trying to find a community. But for TikTokers who have been diagnosed with ADHD, useful advice and a little laughter can be deeply healing.

“People with ADHD and many other neurodivergent folks have a unique way of perceiving things,” Alice says. “I believe that if this uniqueness is recognized, valued, and encouraged with kindness, it has the potential to bring incredible things to the world.”