Why might some people self diagnose ADHD? While a medical diagnosis entitles you support and some services, self diagnosis of neurodivergence, including ADHD, is fairly common. I explore what the drawbacks of a self diagnosis might be, and whether this is still a valid form of diagnosis.
What is self-diagnosis?
Self diagnosis is the term for when an individual has concluded they have ADHD (or another condition) from their own research and experience, rather than received an diagnosis from a psychiatrist.
Self-diagnosis can be considered controversial as those who self-diagnose are (usually) doing so without input from a medical practitioner, potentially making the diagnosis inaccurate. As, generally speaking, one wouldn’t self-diagnose a physical illness, the argument is that self-diagnosis of neurodivergence and mental health conditions is also invalid.
People may self diagnose for a few reasons;
- Recognition of a condition present in their family,
- Lack of access, or long waiting periods for formal assessment,
- Concern at travel restrictions (or impact on insurance premiums) as a result of a formal diagnosis,
- Fear or mistrust for medical practitioners.
It’s important to realise that some form of self-diagnosis is generally the first step for adults to asking for a formal diagnosis. While a referral may be picked up by another health professional (in my case, a CBT counsellor), in many, many cases, individuals will have recognised symptoms themselves and then asked for a referral.
What are the downsides of self diagnosed ADHD?
By not going the formal route towards an ADHD diagnosis, the individual will;
- Have no legal entitlements to accommodations in the workplace (thought some workplaces will still honour accessibility requests),
- Not be able to access medication or NHS-funded condition-specific counselling that may help improve life with the condition,
- Risk a mis-diagnosis of a different neurodivergence or illness that can be supported or treated in a different way.
Why do so many people have ADHD?
ADHD seems to be growing in ‘popularity’ lately but all of us seemingly new ADHDers have been living with this our whole lives (even if we’re not aware of it). While more people are seeking a formal diagnosis, this is less about an uplift in people with ADHD, but more an uplift in people realising that they are entitled to support.
There can be a temptation, when multiple people in a group (be it friendship or work-related) present with ADHD, that someone may be exaggerating, bringing about an urge to spot who ‘really’ has it. But the reality is that ADHD is a very common neurodivergence. In fact, one in ten people will present with some degree of ADHD. This is highly comparable to the proportion of the population with dyslexia, a neurodivergence you generally wouldn’t think to question.
Is a medical diagnosis more valid than a self diagnosis of ADHD?
Legally and medically speaking, a medical diagnosis is more valid than a self-diagnosis. But when it comes to being socially accepted, there’s no clear cut answer. I can only speak from the perspective of someone who has been formally diagnosed.
I did not go into the ADHD assessment process without a degree of self-diagnosis behind me. In fact, while I didn’t formally claim to have ADHD, I was discussing the fact I had been referred to this process with my line manager. The reason being, I wanted to ensure they had this visibility as it would help them understand more about me and the way I operate. While I didn’t phrase it as “I have ADHD”, I still felt it was relevant enough to discuss and was (rightly!!) confident that my diagnosis would be positive, so I respect why some people self-diagnose.
What are the benefits of an ADHD diagnosis?
The primary benefit of getting a formal diagnosis for ADHD is that you will be entitled to ask for help from your work, school, or other formal environment. If you’re lucky enough to work in a progressive workplace, your company will likely already be doing plenty of work to accommodate different ways of working that will help accommodate the variations even neurotypical employees will have. However, a formal diagnosis will secure your right to reasonable accommodations, making this a more protected approach for you.
But an ADHD assessment is beneficial, even for presentees who are not found to have ADHD. While I can not sit here and say with certainty that absolutely no one presenting with ADHD is doing so because they’ve been swept up with the ‘crowd’, I am positive that everyone going through this referral process will be doing so because they have symptoms that are impacting their life. By engaging with a psychiatrist, they can screen for other conditions that may be causing these symptoms, which may require different treatment. These can include;
- Anxiety disorders,
- Other learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia,
- Borderline Personality Disorder.
This list is non-exhaustive, and it’s important to note these conditions often overlap with ADHD. However, a psychiatrist screening for these conditions as part of an ADHD assessment can identify an alternate course of treatment and support that will help you, if they feel one of these other conditions better represent your symptoms.
In summary, yes, you can self diagnose ADHD but you won’t be entitled to the same level of support as you would with a medical diagnosis.
While I would encourage anyone who believes they have ADHD (or are neurodivergent in any other way) to seek a medical diagnosis (so you can access the support you need or be redirected to a condition that better fits you!), it must be recognised that this is not always possible.