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The casualisation of ADHD and OCD among millennials

Youngsters today have no compunction in self-diagnosing and claiming to suffer from ADHD and OCD. There’s a need to set misconceptions aside and use language responsibly

Youngsters today tend to self-diagnose themselves with behavioural disorders like ADHD and OCD
Youngsters today tend to self-diagnose themselves with behavioural disorders like ADHD and OCD (Pexels/Cottonbro Studio)

There’s an openness in discussing mental health today, but while this reduced stigma is something to be cheered for, easier access to information around mental health issues brings along the risks of oversimplification and trivialization. I find this especially applicable to two acronyms that have become commonplace in discussions surrounding mental health among millennials: ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). 

The plainspeak definitions of the two are as follows: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity and difficulties in sustaining attention. OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours or mental acts aimed at reducing the distress (compulsions).

But thanks to casual therapy speak, there’s widespread misconception about the two. Not only have the disorders become household terms, but as youngsters self-diagnose themselves, it appears as if it has become a matter of pride, or “cool”, among atleast a section of them to claim to have these disorders. It got me thinking if these conditions were mere millennial lingo or if there really was some truth to these rising numbers of youngsters apparently affected by ADHD and OCD. 

Also read: What to keep in mind before you pick a therapist

Dr Anupama Bajaj, a senior psychologist and a subject expert in ADHD says, “ADHD and OCD are not just millennial lingo. They are a very big reality.” Dr Bajaj shares that the disorders are common in teenagers, young adults and people below 30 today. “This is because this generation is very self-aware about mental health wellness as opposed to what it was just a few years ago,” she says. 

While they may be common among teenagers and young adults, I believe there needs to be some sensitivity in how OCD and ADHD are addressed in  regular conversations. Casual claims and irresponsibly throwing these terms around can desensitise people towards these disorders. “I think that when people casually use these terms without diagnosis, they trivialise and romanticise these neurodevelopment conditions and this can reduce the seriousness of them, especially for people genuinely struggling with it as it creates stereotypes and desensitisation, ” asserts Kashish Jain, a finance student who is clinically diagnosed with ADHD.

Normal is boring for youngsters today
In his 28 years of experience, Dr. Vinod Kumar, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist and founder of SyNC-Positive Psychiatry, has seen a marked shift in how mental health is perceived. From being a stigma it has now almost become cool to have a mental health condition, he says. “The ‘cool’ factor plays in because a few behavioural symptoms attributed to these disorders can be used to explain away dysfunctional behaviours among youngsters,” Dr Kumar says adding, “If the diagnosis is true then the behaviours are true, but if the diagnosis is false then, the individual is using these disorders as a defence mechanism to write off his or her behavioural abnormalities.” But that’s not all, as Dr Kumar reveals, “One thing I have noticed is that today, it’s considered cool to not be normal. Normal is boring for youngsters today.”

That said, when it comes to effective treatment, Dr Kumar’s advice is simple: “Medication followed by therapy is the perfect way to go about healing the disorders. But before you make a definitive claim and go for any treatment, you first need to get a complete health checkup done along with a comprehensive psychiatric assessment by a professional.” “More people today, however, self-diagnose themselves by looking up information online,” he rues. 

Jain echoes Dr Kumar when she says, “Both therapy and medication are helping me. The medication has brought a lot of difference in my daily routines. Earlier, I used to procrastinate by watching shows or binge eating all the time. But now, I find myself more focused. I feel like I have the energy to get up and do something without having to fight the urge to procrastinate. Therapy has helped me regulate my emotions and build my self esteem. I have noticed that my relationships with my family and friends have improved drastically.”

Get your terminology right: OCD vs OCPD
“Not just young adults, almost everyone has a misconception about OCD,” says Dr. Vinod Kumar before offering an explanation.  

“OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) is a very specific episodic disorder that people develop when they’re going through extreme stress and get obsessive thoughts. It’s different from the behaviour that the millennials are actually referring to, the right term for which is OCPD (Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder). OCPD is a personality disorder characterised by a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with perfectionism, control and orderliness. It refers to being meticulous or wanting to do things in a particular way or keeping things extremely clean. It’s a much more common mental condition prevalent in this generation,” Dr Kumar elaborates.

GB Aadithyaa is and health expert and founder of Nutriveda in Bengaluru. 

Also read: Why you should ditch casual therapy-speak

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