People choose to get and ADHD diagnosis for different reasons. Some people want a diagnosis because it provides guidance for therapy. Others need a diagnosis to get medication.
The process is different from person to person. But it generally involves seeing a mental health professional, answering lots of questions, and ruling out other mental health conditions.
What is the process of getting an ADHD diagnosis like?
Many people start off by learning about ADHD on their own. They talk with friends and loved ones. Or find information on social media or online. This usually happens before talking to a mental health professional.
Once you see a mental health professional, they may interview you or have you complete questionnaires. They may also test you for other conditions— like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. This is to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by something else.
They also might interview your family or have them fill out questionnaires too. If you want medication, you’ll need to be assessed by a psychiatrist who may prescribe stimulants. They do this to see if the medication is helpful for you.
If stimulants help, you likely have ADHD. For people who don’t have ADHD, stimulants usually make them hyper and possibly anxious. But if they don’t do anything, good or bad, there’s still a decent chance you have ADHD.
There’s no single, agreed-upon way of diagnosing ADHD. Our understanding of ADHD is evolving, and so is the process of getting a diagnosis.
Why are there so many steps?
Going through the many steps to get an ADHD diagnosis can be overwhelming. But knowing what to expect and why can help you better prepare for the process.
ADHD can’t be diagnosed based on a simple conversation with a doctor or an interview with family. Like any condition, other conditions must be ruled out. For example, ADHD shares similar symptoms with an overactive thyroid and different mental health conditions.
Also, ADHD symptoms are different for everyone. Some people have “hyper” symptoms. These include talking a lot, moving constantly, or lack of attention. While others have “inattentive” symptoms. Like being easily distracted, forgetful, or easily losing things. Some people have a mix of both. Only a medical evaluation and test by a professional can help determine the severity of the symptoms someone is experiencing.
Often providers want to make sure they are not misdiagnosing people. This is because ADHD meds are often misused. So, it can be hard to get a prescription for ADHD compared to other mental illnesses like depression.
Additionally, ADHD symptoms must have been present during childhood to get a diagnosis. The purpose of an interview is to help a provider pinpoint when symptoms first started. And to further rule out another diagnosis. They may ask about your performance in school or work, how you interact with your family and friends, and if your family has a history of any mental health conditions. Providing as much accurate information as possible is the key to getting the right diagnosis.
What if my ADHD diagnosis is wrong?
I’d ask myself, if I had ANY issue with ANY aspect of my health, would I feel comfortable and empowered talking to that provider?
For me, a provider I can trust isn’t dismissive of my concerns, explains all treatment options and asks for my input vs just prescribing. They relate to me in some way i.e. similar identities and values. They take all aspects of my health into account, and are accessible so I don’t have to wait months for an appointment. This is very important to someone with time management issues. And they are on top of following up with me.
Because of stereotypes and discrimination, girls, women, and people of color are misdiagnosed or dismissed when they bring up concerns which prevents them from receiving an ADHD diagnosis even if they have ADHD.
Advocating for yourself can be scary. But it’s important to find a provider who can assist you through the ADHD diagnosis process. And clearly explain treatment options. If the diagnosis you receive doesn’t feel right, then it’s ok to get a second opinion.
You are an expert on your experiences. Finding the right mental health professional who can guide you through the steps of ADHD diagnosis is important. There’s nothing wrong with finding a different mental health provider or even talking to your primary care physician if the diagnosis you receive doesn’t seem right.
If you are ready to speak with a mental health professional about ADHD, you might want to check out this article about finding a therapist. Or you may want to use this tool to help you find the mental health provider who’s right for you.
- Brown, Thomas E., Ph.D. (2022 July 13). The Building Blocks of a Good ADHD Diagnosis. ADHD & Symptom Tests>ADHD Guide, How ADHD is Diagnosed. https://www.additudemag.com/how-to-get-diagnosed-for-adhd-ensuring-a-good-evaluation/
- Centers for Disease Control. (2022, August 9). Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). (2022). Diagnosis of ADHD in Adults. For Adults. https://chadd.org/for-adults/diagnosis-of-adhd-in-adults/