ADHD, anxiety and depression - labels of help or hindrance?

Googling “Do I have ADHD?” brought 678 million results, many bragging tests for the answer in under 5 minutes. Doing the same for anxiety brought 2,410 million results and for depression brought 3,470 million. The chances are the quick tests on offer will say you do. Are these quick tests reliable?


The ADHD Centre responsibly say: “The following test will give an indication as to whether you are experiencing the most common symptoms of ADHD and can, therefore, be an indication of the likelihood that you may have ADHD. However, it cannot replace a full assessment nor should be used to self-diagnose or decide upon a treatment plan.”

Many others do not and, in any case, all too often the results from quick tests are considered a diagnosis by those taking them. In contrast, a formal diagnosis by the NHS can take hours. No wonder then that GPs, faced with an ever-growing mass of 'self-diagnosed sufferers' often take little heed. They've seen it all before, hundreds if not thousands of times. Where does this leave the ones now resolutely clinging to their self-diagnosed label of need?

Perhaps one of the first questions we should be asking is: why do so many people, especially youngsters, feel the need for any such label? Could it be a need to fit in with so many of their peers doing the same? Could be a search for some sort of identity in the maelstrom of the flashy, in-your-face, social-media world they find themselves in? “I'm not getting famous. There must be something wrong with me.”

Being impossible to live up to expectations can make people feel constant failures. Make them feel low.

“I'm depressed.”

Of course, they are, they have a 'diagnosis' to prove it and now to live up to.

You may disagree, but what I've seen is people using self-diagnoses as defence mechanisms. 'Official' excuses for not facing themselves or working on their issues. While mostly youngsters, it can be the same for adults too. After all, whatever our age, we still have our inner child inside.

And then there's anxiety, the most searched-for issue on Counselling Directory. Anxiety at anything and everything because there has been no learnt behaviour to deal with failure or view it in any positive way, as a learning tool for going forward. Have failures exposed on social media and it's pretty much guaranteed there will be some toxic comments and ridicule - often by those simply trying to deflect from their own failures and fears. So why not get a label for anxiety too and get pity instead?

It's a similar thing to sexuality. The last count I heard was 73 different sexuality-type labels. 73! Aroace to Uranic and everything in between. More labels. How has our society become so needy for labels? Whatever happened to just being ourselves?

What happens when labels become self-full-filling prophecies? Grabbing a depression label when you're feeling down and living according to that label is only going to make you feel more down and, even if you weren't at first, probably actually depressed. The same for anxiety, ADHD and every other label adopted as a badge of honour and a dictate for how to exist - protected from blame, responsibility or working on ourselves because of 'the condition'.

Of course, amongst the many misdiagnosed, there will be genuine cases but how can these genuine cases make themselves heard or be helped amongst the mass of lost identities desperate to belong to something, anything? In all too many cases, they can't. Overloaded GPs often brush them aside as yet another self-pity case.

As therapists, we are outnumbered by hundreds, even thousands to one. For those we do get a chance to help, I feel the need to validate the client as a person. We could question the source of their diagnosis but, whether valid or not, it feels valid to them.

Rather than putting any such 'diagnosis' down, what if we focus on helping them live as themselves, instead of as their label? To reframe their thinking from:

“I am depressed/anxious/ADHD.”, as an identity


“I suffer from depression/anxiety/ADHD.”, as a condition.

What I, and no doubt many of you, have seen is the struggle for identity, in this social media swamped world, which is what many are suffering from the most. Is it really OK to just be human and not mega-famous, with millions of followers and a bank balance to match? Yes, it is.

As people, we are all valid, no matter what we do or do not achieve in the eyes of others. It surely comes down to the same basic need missing in so many conditions we see - including co-dependency - the basic need to love ourselves. Until clients can self-validate and self-love, and be comfortable in their own skin, are they not at risk of needing external validations, in their modern mass form? Labels.

Returning to the title of this article: help or hindrance? Maybe the most helpful and least hindering label for us needs just one syllable:


The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK9
Written by Brad Stone, Integrative Therapist - Diploma, MBACP, MNCPS (Acc)
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK9

Brad Stone is a therapist and writer, based in Milton Keynes

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