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Ask Julie: Do I Have Adult ADD?

Q: I’m a student receiving my Master’s degree. Within the past two years I’ve felt my body and mind change significantly in many ways.

I feel extremely anxious when doing tasks (even small ones like packing/unpacking a suitcase). This is the same with grocery shopping or attempting my homework. I then push everything aside and get nothing done. My habits of cleanliness such as my apartment have declined because I refuse to motivate myself to clean. I’ll find myself in the kitchen then in the bedroom for some reason the randomly in the bathroom, ultimately accomplishing nothing. I get distracted by TV a lot and it impedes my homework. I also feel pressured on what to do when I finish my masters and feel like I’m too lackadaisical to even search for jobs. My relationship with my boyfriend is also affected by this in that I’ll freak out on him, refuse sex, and find him at the mercy of which high or low I’ll be on. I’ll also find myself drinking and smoking cigarettes more often to avoid doing work or tasks. I feel like I have adult ADD due to these symptoms and have spoken with my mother, who revealed she believes she has it as well but was never properly diagnosed. I would like to know what to do and what would happen if I see a psychiatrist.

A: Next time you talk with your mom ask her if she recalls you having similar attention problems in elementary school.

While your symptoms do sound a lot like adult ADD, it’s important to determine whether you experienced these symptoms during childhood or whether they are new. If all of your symptoms are recent, it’s very unlikely that you have ADD. If they’ve been going on for years, it’s more likely that you have have ADD.

There are other possible explanations for your recent changes in your behavior and emotions. Depression or anxiety disorders often emerge in young adulthood and symptoms are similar to what you’re describing – difficulty concentrating, irritability, lack of motivation. ADD is often associated with other mental health conditions as well, so there may be a combination of issues that you’re struggling with.

Your idea about getting an evaluation by a psychiatrist is right on target! An evaluation will provide a clear diagnosis and suggest course of treatment to help you manage your symptoms. Your doctor will likely recommend medication or psychotherapy, or a combination of both.

If you’ve never had a psychiatric or mental health evaluation, it’s natural to be a little nervous because you have no idea what to expect. When you set up an appointment with a psychiatrist, he or she might give you some questionnaires to fill out before the appointment. During your appointment he or she will perform an in-depth interview with you. Medical or psychological testing may also be recommended. In addition to your evaluation and psychotherapy, you and your boyfriend may want to consider couples counseling to help repair any damage to your relationship.

You are in a stressful time of life full of transitions and important decisions – graduate school, serious relationships, career choices. These can be exciting and incredibly stressful. Make sure you’re taking care of your basic needs by getting adequate sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular recreation and exercise. No matter what your diagnosis, all of these lifestyle choices will help you manage your symptoms and will contribute to your overall health and happiness.

Take good care of yourself.

Julie Hanks, LCSW

This post originally appeared in my Psych Central Ask the Therapist column

Self & relationship expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is wife of 22 years and mother of 4, a licensed therapist, a popular media contributor, and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Listen to Julie’s podcast You and Yours , on B98.7 radio as the Bee’s Family Counselor, and read her national advice columns on Psych Central! and Latter-day Woman Magazine

Why are we more anxious and stressed out?: Nightside Project

I stopped by KSL Radio’s The Nightside Project last night to talk with Ethan and Alex about why Americans are more anxious and stressed than ever and what we can do about it here in Utah.  I had so much fun that I ended up staying for another segment talking about the importance of men expressing vulnerability in relationships and the top movies that make men cry.

Listen to the interview on iTunes

Click on link for (second hour) for Thursday, February 3, 2011