I’ve been hearing a lot about ADHD lately and I am sure you are, too. It is not uncommon these days for someone to receive a diagnosis well into adulthood. If you think you might have ADHD based on what you’ve heard and read, you might also be wondering what the next step is. Navigating the healthcare system can be a lot. If you are overwhelmed and unsure where to start, know that you are not alone.
One of the first things to know is who can diagnosis ADHD. Our team can support ADHD treatment but we cannot diagnose. That is because we are a team of Registered Clinical Counsellors or Registered Social Workers who are trained to provide therapy, not clinical diagnoses. Please note, this is going to differ by country and I am writing from a Canadian perspective and the following information may or may not apply to you if you are in a different country.
For starters, there is no single test for ADHD. It is not something that can be genetically or physically identified in someone. It requires a diagnostic evaluation by a qualified professional who will gather information from a number of sources to inform their decision. What are these sources? They can be everything from symptom checklists, standardized behaviour rating scales, and a detailed history of past and present functioning.
If you suspect you might have ADHD you might wonder why a diagnosis is important. It’s important to different people for different reasons, but some of those reasons might be personal. For example, receiving an accurate diagnosis may lead you to make sense of your past and current functioning and help you to know yourself more deeply.
It can also guide effective and appropriate treatment. Some people seek a diagnosis because they wonder if (or perhaps know) that pharmaceutical interventions are appropriate for them. In addition to pharmaceutical treatments, there are also many other evidence-based treatments such as therapy or psycho-education that can be supportive in the treatment of ADHD.
Where to start
Before you begin seeking a diagnosis, it could be worth looking more into ADHD to see if what you are experiencing aligns with the symptoms of ADHD. Here is a brief ADHD test that may help you determine if you need to see a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. (Note: this is NOT a diagnostic tool).
If you have a family doctor, that would be the best place to start. Your family doctor (MD) may be able to assess and diagnose ADHD, or they may refer you to more specialized mental health services for a diagnosis. I have heard wait times for this can be long—but this would be one way to access services within Canada’s healthcare system (i.e. free of cost).
In Maclean’s magazine, Dr. Carlin Miller, a professor of psychology at the University of Windsor, cautions against a diagnosis from a family doctor, stating:
“[ADHD] is a psychiatric diagnosis. It requires more than 15 minutes in the office, and general practitioners don’t have the time or training to perform this level of assessment.”
Psychologists and psychiatrists can also provide diagnoses. For folks with extended insurance coverage, seeking a psychologist without a referral may be an option worth exploring. Seeing a psychiatrist will most likely come by way of a referral from your family doctor. Don’t have a family doctor? In Canada, you aren’t alone, unfortunately. You could try visiting a clinic and see if they would be able to refer you to a more specialized mental health professional or service.
If you have the privilege of disposable income, there are private options to seek an ADHD diagnosis in Canada. You could start by googling mental health professions that specialize in ADHD assessment in your area to see what is available. If you have private insurance, these services may or may not be covered—you would have to look into your individual plan.
There are also innovators in the space that are working to cut down on costs by delivering these services virtually. For example, Frida provides accessible options for ADHD diagnostic assessment and care and is completely virtual. At this time, Frida only offers their services in Ontario and Alberta, but mentions on their website that they plan on expanding services to other provinces.
There are also low-cost counselling options that you can explore to help you to manage the symptoms of ADHD in the meantime. Our team of intern counsellors offers counselling free to low-cost counselling.
It is important to note that one of the reasons receiving a diagnosis for ADHD is challenging is because the medications often prescribed can be misused. This can make it incredibly frustrating for individuals who are struggling with the impacts of living with ADHD. At the same time, there are a lot of issues that come up with misdiagnosis and the over-prescription of pharmaceutical drugs. so it is a tricky balance to strike.
At lot of the times it just comes down to navigating the healthcare system—which can be especially confusing when it comes to seeking mental health support. Though we cannot provide a diagnosis for you, we would be more to happy to connect you with one of our counsellors to support you through the process of seeking a diagnosis and manage your day-to-day symptoms.