A phenomenological investigation of ADHD: language and medication

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    I know I have ADHD, but I don’t know whether I have a disability. ADHD makes some tasks more challenging and in this limited sense I agree that it is ‘disabling’, but this is not the usual sense of meaning associated with ‘disability’. I have taken medication for ADHD since primary school and it has been an integral aspect of my life ever since, but I do not understand my medication as ‘treatment’. So, the matter remains unclear – ADHD is in some sense ‘disabling’ which, in my case, medication benefits, and yet I do not think that I am ‘disabled’ or in need of ‘treatment’. In this paper I reflect on the phenomenology of ADHD through the lenses of language and medication; specifically, how medical language has shaped my understanding of ADHD and the role which medication has in my life. I have grown wary about answering questions about what it is like to have ADHD because these sorts of questions often seek answers that detail how I am different to others in undesirable ways. I say ‘undesirable’ because of what teachers and doctors have told me, others like me and their families for years – “ADHD is not your fault, and you will learn to live with it by develop coping mechanisms and taking your tablets”. I am unwilling to engage on those terms because they endorse a perspective that ADHD is a problem that needs medical intervention. Nonetheless, being told such things throughout my life developed a view within me that the ‘real’ me is the me without the ADHD, and the closest I can get to that is when I have taken my tablets. Moreover, teachers and doctors would say that this medicine helps me and is for my own good, but now I think they believed it was also in their benefit. Being given medication whilst being told that it will ‘help’ not only caused me to think that the real me is the medicated me, but that the default natural me is akin to an illness in need of treatment, and that one of its symptoms is my inability to recognise my illness and interests. This develops attitudes of self-rejection, where part of me was seen as something that should not be seen. This paper will reflect in greater detail on these concepts and reach two conclusions. First, that the language used to discuss ADHD influences the conceptual framework through which we understand it and those with it. This is especially pertinent because ADHD is part of what makes me, me; and it is unhealthy to develop attitudes within people where an aspect of their identity is deemed an issue in need of medical treatment. Second, although medication has its benefits and helps address some of the challenges I face in life, it becomes part of the challenge when it is conceptualised as treatment for an illness. I know that I have ADHD but I don’t think that I am either disabled nor ill – but sometimes I am forced to speak and think about myself in those terms.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - Apr 2023
    EventPsychiatry and lived experience workshop -
    Duration: 17 Apr 202318 Apr 2023

    Academic seminar/workshop

    Academic seminar/workshopPsychiatry and lived experience workshop


    • ADHD
    • philosophy
    • disability
    • psychiatry
    • psychology
    • neurodiversity


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