Category: Thinking out loud

The many faces of bullying

25 November, the International day which marks the onset of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. This worldwide campaign aims to raise awareness of the negative impact that violence and abuse have on women and children and to rid society of abuse permanently. However, the success of the campaign is dependent on our daily individual and collective actions to safeguard our society against the cycle of abuse.


What is abuse?

Abuse is any form of behaviour that can instill fear in a victim, cause emotional, physical or financial damage to a person, or coerce victims in doing something against their will (e.g. engage in sexual activities). Abuse can take place through commission (e.g. visible, physical behaviour), but also omission (the subtle withholding of e.g. care, support, and finances).

In a close relationship, it can be difficult to know whether you are being abused, especially if your partner says they love you, gives you a lot of attention, or pays for the groceries or rent – yet instil fear or emotional trauma through their actions or words. People who are abusive sometimes act loving and supportive as a way to keep you in the relationship. However, a partner’s loving behaviour does not make their abusive behaviour OK.

It makes them a bully.

But adult bullies have many faces: it is not only the controlling romantic partner, but also the intimidating boss or colleague, the difficult neighbour, the pushy sales representative, the condescending family member, or the social acquaintance or friend who shames you. Bullying is a deliberate act with the purpose of harming another – either through using power to instil fear, victimisation, or harassment. A bully (male or female) gains power in a relationship by reducing another’s and shows little regard for the consequences to a victim’s health or well-being. Bullying is abuse.


Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying can make life quite miserable and difficult. A 2017 American survey ( found that adults are being bullied at levels similar to adolescents. More than 2000 US adults partook in this online survey. The survey found that 31% have been bullied as an adult, 25% of adults have experienced the “silent treatment” from an individual or group, and 21% have had someone spread lies about them. Unfortunately, it seems that adults are becoming desensitised and complacent: 43% believe that bullying behavior has become more accepted in the past year.

It’s important to note the consequences of bullying. It can make you very ill. From the same study, 71% suffer from stress, 70% experience anxiety and or depression, 55% report a loss of confidence, 39% suffer from sleep loss, 26% have headaches and 22% experience muscle tension or pain, whilst 19% reported a mental breakdown, and 17% called in sick frequently. Emotional stress can also cause or aggravate other gastrointestinal problems, and cardiovascular problems such as hypertension. Victims of workplace bullying also has double the risk of suicidal ideation over the subsequent five years (Nielsen et al, 2015)

Examples of workplace bullying are being ignored (the “silent treatment”), refusing to help you when asked, not responding to your attempts to communicate (phone calls, emails), cutting you off while you’re talking, or even keeping you out of the loop for work-related social events. The bully may also not respect your time by intentionally showing up late to meetings, or missing agreed deadlines deliberately. They may also sabotage your ideas or projects, denying you well-deserved praise, taking credit for your work, or blame you for problems at work. But it may be even worse…


What types of abuse are there?

  • Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body, or threats to hurt you, or loved ones (including pets). Sometimes abusive behavior does not cause pain or even leave a bruise, but it’s still unhealthy. Physical abuse may include scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking, throwing something at you (a phone, a shoe), pulling or pushing you around, the use of any weapons, grabbing your face to force you to look at them, or grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.
  • Verbal/emotional abuse may not cause physical damage, but it does cause long lasting emotional pain and scarring. It can also escalate to physical violence if the relationship continues on an unhealthy path. Constantly being criticised and told you aren’t good enough causes you to lose confidence and lowers your self-esteem. You may actually start believing what your partner says (e.g. being ugly, worthless, or useless). As a result, you may start to blame yourself for your partner’s abusive behaviour. Controlling behaviour (e.g. isolating you from family and friends, monitoring what you are doing and where you are throughout  the day, demanding your passwords, or deciding for you what you should wear), extreme jealousy (including constant accusations of cheating), having a quick temper (and then blaming you for the outburst), or demeaning and belittling you. Emotional bullying is also common in the workplace, e.g. gossip or starting rumours about someone or a group of individuals.
  • Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do. It can also refer to behaviour that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms. It is important to know that just because the victim “didn’t say no,” doesn’t mean that they meant “yes.” When someone does not resist an unwanted sexual advance, it doesn’t mean that they consented. Sometimes physically resisting can put a victim at a bigger risk for further physical or sexual abuse.
  • Financial abuse can be very subtle, although often associated with physical and emotional abuse. and can include behaviour such as giving you an allowance and monitoring closely how you spend it, placing your salary in their account and denying you access to it, using your credit card without permission, keeping you from seeing shared bank accounts or records, controlling the amount of hours you are allowed to work, or making it impossible to go to work (e.g. by taking your car or keys), creating havoc at work (e.g. by harassing you or your co-workers), withholding necessities (e.g. money, food, rent, medicine or clothing), using funds from joint accounts without your knowledge, or using their money to hold power over you because they know you are not in the same financial situation as they are.
  • Technological abuse (“cyberbullying”) is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate another person or partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. Examples are controlling who you are allowed to befriend or not on social media sites, negative, insulting or threatening messages sent via phone or email, stealing your passwords, constantly texting you and making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished, using technology (such as spyware or GPS in a car or on a phone) to monitor you.
  • Stalking, i.e. when a person repeatedly watches, follows or harasses you, making you feel afraid or unsafe, is another type of abuse. A stalker can be someone you know, a past partner or a stranger. Stalkers may show up at your home or place of work unannounced or uninvited, send you unwanted text messages, letters, emails and voicemails, leave unwanted items, gifts or flowers, spread rumours about you via the internet or word of mouth, or even damage your home, car or other property.


Nine tips on beating the bullies and recovering from abuse

  1. Acknowledge the problem. If you are unsure whether you are being bullied or abuse, try describing the situation as if it were happening to someone else. If a friend told you this story, how would you react? Call it what it is: recognising bullying and abuse as it is happening can provide some comfort by validating your feelings and affirming your reality. Remember, both men and women can be bullies, and so too can both men and women be victims of bullying.
  2. Be safe. The most important priority in the face of an adult bully or abuser is to protect yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable with a situation, leave. Contact the police (and obtain a protection order), an emergency or crisis hotline, social agencies, or a lawyer.
  3. Limit exposure. With adult bullies whom you need to interact with on a regular basis, it’s important to put a stop to any serious, potentially damaging patterns early on. Keep a healthy distance and avoid engagement unless you absolutely have to. Ask to be moved in the office or removed from the specific team. Whenever possible, formalise your daily communication with the bully by either putting things in writing, or having a witness present. Keep a paper trail of facts, issues, agreements, disagreements, and timelines.
  4. Keep calm. Bullies try to provoke you. They project their aggression to push your buttons and keep you off balance. By doing so, they create an advantage from which they can exploit your weaknesses. The less reactive you are to provocations, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the situation. Don’t take the bait. Let them own their own pathology.
  5. Speak up. We all have a part in stopping bullies, so if a peer is being bullied, be their support, and if you are being bullied, find support from co-workers, friends, and professionals. Some victims of adult bullying remain quiet about their experience, due to fear, embarrassment, a sense of helplessness and powerlessness, as well as gender, cultural, social, and/or institutional conditioning. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. Being a silent victim gives the bully more power. No matter how difficult the situation, seek out trustworthy individuals to confide in, whether they be friends, family members, colleagues, HR, or a health care professional. Being supported will strengthen your ability to handle the challenge.
  6. Empower yourself and build confidence. Bullying is not about you. Bullying might be targeted at you, but the first step to handling them is realising that you’re not doing anything wrong. Adult bullies are trying to disempower you, to make up for some shortcoming of their own. Do not take bullying personally. Stop being the victim. You can only be bullied and abused if you allow it. Take a stand. Speak up. Find support.
  7. Seek professional assistance. Recovering from the emotional scars may take longer than recovering from physical scars. Do consult with a qualified professional (psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist) to address the trauma, anxiety, and depression which may be associated with or follow on from being bullied and abused. Although therapy is always indicated, medication might be suggested even if only for a temporary period of time until you are back on your feet and gained controlled back of your life and healed from the emotional scars.
  8. Self care. Take care of yourself. Sleep enough, eat healthy, exercise regularly and socialise. Investing in these activities will make you more resilient to address the situation, and also to recover. You are worthwhile. You deserve this.
  9. Legal action. Harassment and threats are criminal offenses and should never be ignored. Know your rights (to be treated with respect, to express your feelings, opinions and needs, to set your own boundaries and say “no”, to take care of your and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally, to create your own happy and healthy life). When your boundaries and rights are violated, deploy consequences. Take legal action if needed.

Bullying and abuse are never acceptable. Let us stand together in speaking up, supporting one another and stop the cycle of men and women being abused.


The epic formula for creativity

Often the seed of a blog is planted months earlier, and then has to mature until it is ready to sprout. But sometimes, we keep the soil very hard and dry, preventing the seed from pushing the fresh shoot above the soil – we are not granting the story permission to be told. The same goes for creativity…


Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book “Big Magic: creative living beyond fear” defines creativity as “the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration”. She discuss how we need to find the courage to allow ourselves to be creative, to permit inspiration to find us, and to persist and trust ourselves in our creative expression. “The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes”.


Looking back on 2017 – a jam packed, challenging, but good year – I was reflecting on what kept me energised. I am dedicated to healthy living (a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, exercising (almost) daily) and investing in family and friends. This kept me going. But what is the one additional ingredient which “spiced up” the year? Being creative – quilting, crocheting, gardening (despite the water restrictions – which is a challenge in itself), playing my piano or harp, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. This required dedicated time. But it was worthwhile.


But what is creativity?


Creativity can be defined as

“productivity marked by originality”

“the purposeful generation and implementation of a novel idea”

“the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”


Ruth Noller, Professor Emeritus of Creative Studies at Buffalo State College, developed a symbolic equation for creativity, suggesting that creativity (C) is a function of knowledge (K) obtained through life experiences, imagination (I) to generate ideas or make connections, evaluation (E) of the advantages or disadvantages of a particular idea. There is one other critical element: a positive attitude (a) and the belief that you are creative, i.e.

C = fa(K,I,E)


“I am just not the creative type”


While we often think of creativity as an event or as a natural skill that some people have and some don’t, research suggests that both creativity and non-creativity are learned. Twin studies showed that roughly 20% of the variance in creativity is due to the influence of genes. Genetic variations may make some people’s brains more open to thoughts, sensations and behaviour that are expressed in creative behaviour, but research showed that practice, training and exposure to unfamiliar ideas and experiences are playing a bigger and essential role in shaping creativity. Certainly, some people are primed to be more creative than others. However, nearly every person is born with some level of creative skill and the majority of our creative thinking abilities can be developed.


Although we tend to think of creativity in terms of artwork and other creations, evolutionary, creativity was also expressed when early hominids started using tools for e.g. hunting, and building shelters. Symbolic expression through e.g. rock art only appeared later when the early humans’ prefrontal cortex (the “CEO” of the brain) – which is responsible for coordinating brain activities into goal-directed thoughts and behaviour – developed to have more complicated and better integrated connections with the rest of the brain.


Another crucial ingredient for creativity is social interaction and skills – exchanging ideas and learning from one another sparks creativity. According to Thomas “It is not how smart you are, but how well connected you are”.


Finally, being self-motivated and being interested in honing your skills (whether it is playing an instrument, crocheting a blanket, redecorating a room, or painting a work of art), are the determining factor in how you develop and express your creativity.


Our brains are “wired” to be creative


Heilman, Nadeau and Beversdorp, in a 2009 article, wrote that “creative innovation might require co-activation and communication between regions of the brain that ordinarily are not strongly connected.” Highly creative people who excel at creative innovation tend to differ from others in three ways:

  • they have a high level of specialized knowledge
  • they are capable of divergent thinking mediated by the frontal lobe
  • they are able to modulate neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline and dopamine in their frontal lobe.


Colin Martindale (University of Maine) found that highly creative people tend to produce more brain waves in the alpha region during creative tasks than less creative people, thereby allowing more information into their conscious awareness during creative tasks. In other words, focussing attention inward, away from the outside world, helps us to generate creative ideas. Other studies have also shown the frontal lobes to be hypoactive (underactive) during periods of idea-generation, thereby allowing less filtering of information. This enables us to daydream or mind-wander: allowing one memory or thought to spontaneously trigger another. While the frontal lobes can be seen as responsible for idea generation, the temporal lobes are crucial for idea editing and evaluation – enabling us to switch to analytical mode and focus on the most relevant properties of our generated ideas. This is then usually followed by the “Eureka!” moment – when the solution arrives into conscious awareness – characterised by a burst of gamma brainwave activity.


In 2003, Vandervert described how the cerebellum is responsible for “mental prototyping” and “rehearsal”. Essentially, when a person is confronted with a challenging new situation, visual-spatial and speech-related working memory (i.e. the information you are actively keeping in mind to use) are decomposed and recomposed by the cerebellum and then “blended” in the cerebral cortex in an attempt to deal with the new situation.


Not only is specific areas in the brain important for creativity – neurotransmitters also plays and important role. Dopamine levels in the limbic system (e.g. research conducted by Flaherty in 2005) are important for the drive to be creative through increasing general arousal and goal directed behaviours, and reducing latent inhibition. Reduced dopamine binding in the thalamus also increases creativity through decreased cognitive filtering and therefore allowing more information into conscious awareness. During the REM (rapid eye movement) period of sleep (i.e. dream-sleep), high levels of acetylcholine in the hippocampus suppress feedback from the hippocampus to the neocortex, and lower levels of acetylcholine and noradrenaline in the neocortex encourage the spread of associational activity within neocortical areas without control from the hippocampus. This helps the brain to form new associations in which information from the hippocampus is reinterpreted in relation to previous semantic representations or nodes.


Seven benefits of creativity


  • It relieves stress

Creative activities impact the body in a way similar to meditation. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly first described this phenomenon as flow: a few moments in time when you are so completely absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter. During a 2004 TED talk, he said: “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.” This, according to him, is the secret to happiness. Interestingly Stuckey and Nobel (2010) fond that you don’t even need to produce something yourself in order to de-stress. Observing creativity (e.g. attending a concert, visiting a museum, or reading a book) allows you to bask in the creativity of others – and still reap the meditative benefits.


  • It improves mood

Being creative improves our overall emotional health through improving psychological resilience – thereby increasing our control over emotional distress and pain, and depression. In a 2010 review of more than a 100 studies on the benefits of the arts (music, visual arts, dance and writing), Stuckey and Noble concluded that creative expression has a powerful impact on health and well-being on various patient populations. Most of these studies concur that participation and/or engagement in the arts decrease depressive symptoms, while increasing positive emotions. An interesting study by Riley and colleagues (published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy in 2013) evaluated the benefits of knitting on 3545 knitters’ personal and social well-being. Amongst the 3545 knitters who took part in the study. The results show a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy. More frequent knitters also reported higher cognitive functioning. Knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact and communication with others.


  • It improves your social life

People bond through common experiences and interests. The study on knitters found that knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact, and communication with others. But socializing during creative acts also improves cognitive health! CNN reported in 2015 that elders who socialize are 55 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. This reiterated findings from a 2008 study conducted at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health which found that socially active elders experience a slower rate of memory loss than those who aren’t: “In fact, memory decline among the most integrated was less than half the rate among the least integrated.”


  • It increases and rejuvenates brain function

Engaging in creative activities stimulates the production of new neurons, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy brain. In a Mayo Clinic study, Malchiodi (2015) reported that people who take on craft-based projects (such as painting, drawing and sculpting, woodwork, pottery, ceramics, quilting, quilling and sewing) in midlife and older have a 45 percent less chance of developing cognitive problems such as dementia. In a 2014 study, Bolwerk and colleagues reported that making art improves communication between different parts of the brain, which is vital to preventing cognitive deterioration. Being creative “exercise” our medial temporal lobes – directly benefiting our memory-making abilities. We also become better problem solvers: during creative engagements, we learn new and resourceful ways of solving problems in our “art” – which provides us with the experience and confidence to solve problems in life.


  • It enhances self-knowledge

Being creative is a journey inward – then outward. The more we create, the more we discover and understand our habits, impulses, and desires. When we dedicated time and energy to develop our own ideas, we respect our inner nature and innate creativity – and are better able to express ourselves to the world on a regular basis.


  • It builds confidence

When we create, we are given the opportunity to engage with the world without judging ourselves. We have permission to take risks, try new things, and strip away inhibitions in a healthy way. We do not have to be “good” or “smart” or “the expert”. When we create, we recognise that our work does matter even if it is not published, displayed or presented to the public. However, creativity does requires courage, dedication, commitment, and the willingness to fail and try again. We learn to trust our instincts and gain confidence from expressing them, eliciting feelings of accomplishment, but also humbleness and gratefulness. This confidence carries over into decisions we make in other areas of life. According to Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, those who credit innate talents, rather than hard work give up more easily when facing a novel challenge because they assume it exceeds their ability.


  • It saves money

It is true that some hobbies are more expensive than others and might require certain equipment and materials. However, creative expression, and planning for the process, can also help us to control the urge to buy impulsively. We can also save money by e.g. making gifts, instead of buying. Being creative is good value for money – considering the cost per hour!


Eight tips to cultivate your creativity


  • Schedule time

Schedule in creative activities, or else they might not happen. Don’t wake up in the morning and think, “I hope I feel inspired to create something today.” You need to take the decision-making out of it. “Genius arrives when you show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way”. Take a break from screen time by setting aside your phone or computer. Just start. Produce something. Put pen to paper and sketch a drawing. Grab your camera and take a picture. Turn up the music and dance. Crochet one row. Even if you “do not have time”, utilise the minutes you do have – you will be surprised how much you can do sitting waiting for someone/something!


  • Capture your ideas

Take a twenty minute walk and let your mind wander freely. Not only will you destress, but you will also generate ideas, and integrate insights and intuitions. Considering starting “morning pages” – twenty minutes of writing down everything and anything that pops up in your mind – whether it is worries, or frustrations, random thoughts, or creative wish lists.


  • Expand your knowledge and interests

Expose yourself to new ideas. Read. Take an “artistic outing” – one new adventure a week! Visit a museum. Listen to a different radio station. Browse in a bookshop. Have conversations with others for novel ideas and perspectives.


  • Surround yourself with interesting ideas and people

Join or start a group. Working alone is usually the best way to come up with creative solutions. Once you have some ideas, casual interactions with others can help you develop them. Socialising in a creative way is good for you.


  • Do mental exercises

Think of alternative uses for objects (e.g. “what can I do with a paperclip?”). Describe objects in unusual ways (think “30 Seconds”). Perform common tasks in an unconventional order (e.g. can you make a sandwich by not cutting the bread prior to spreading it?).


  • Step outside of your comfort zone

Challenge yourself. Give yourself permission to create “junk”. You have to practice enough self-compassion to not let self-judgement take over. Don’t be scared of failing! Research has shown that failure directly produces resurgence, i.e. the emergence of behaviours that used to be effective in that situation are now adjusted through competition with new behaviour and connections. It stimulates creativity!


  • Play and have fun!

According to a 1997 study conducted in Michigan, by age 23, more than one third of children who had attended play-free preschools had been arrested for a felony as compared to fewer than one tenth of play-oriented preschool attendees. Play improves social skills, reduces stress, and help us to try new things (i.e. behavioural flexibility). As adults, we still need to play still need to play:body play (active movement/exercise without any time pressure or expected outcome), object play (create with your hands) or social play (e.g. board games, or even small talk and verbal jousting). Work will always be there, and will always get done – but it will never be done. But the happiness and renewed energy from play will compensate for “lost” time.


  • See it through

Complete something. Anything. Stop researching, planning, and preparing to do something creative. There are no artists, athletes, scholars, or entrepreneurs who became great by half-finishing their work. Tackle your UFOs (Un-Finished Objects). Hold yourself accountable – by setting timelines and goals, and sharing publicly. Post your progress and finished project on Pinterest of Facebook. “Show and tell” in your creative groups. What seems “simple” to you is often brilliant to someone else. But you’ll never know that unless you choose to share. The feedback will help you to improve, and will also inspire you to make and care more.



Creativity should be part of your self-care armamentarium. It is increasingly being acknowledged as a potent mind-body approach as well as a cost-effective intervention to prevent and address a variety of challenges throughout the lifespan.


Osho said, “To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”


Make 2018 a creative year!


Image: © Can Stock Photo / peshkova

Is ADHD a fairytale?

What a blessed couple of weeks! Although having loads of the usual pressures, our dream to launch Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation became a reality (see our splash page, or Facebook page . This led to extensive media coverage and also radio interviews!

During these interviews I became once again aware of the amount of stigma, misconceptions, and myths surrounding the diagnosis of Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the treatment thereof – the cause being either a lack of information and knowledge, or misinformation.


So let me address some of these myths:


  • Myth 1: ADHD is a new invention of modern society

The facts:

“Mental Restlessness” was first described by Sir Alexander Crichton in 1798, while “Fidgety Philip” (a popular storybook character and now also an allegory for children with ADHD) was created by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1844. Sir George Still (in 1902) was the first to describe the symptoms of restlessness, inattention and impulsiveness in children – the starting point of the description ADHD as we know it.


  • Myth 2: ADHD is not a real disorder

The facts:

Since the first descriptions of ADHD, more than 10 000 clinical and scientific publications have been published on ADHD and there are clear differences between children (and adults) with and without ADHD. ADHD has been recognised as a legitimate diagnosis by major international medical, psychological, and educational organisations. ADHD is best understood as a bio-psychosocial condition: it is medical in origin but is affected and influenced by the environment, social and emotional aspects of the person and situation. However, research shows that genetic (hereditary) and neurological factors (such as pregnancy and birth complications, brain damage, toxins and infections) are the main causes of ADHD rather than social factors (such as poor parenting and diet).

ADHD is one of the most genetic conditions – it runs in families, with a heritability chance of almost 60% for a child if a parent has ADHD, and a 70%–80% chance for a twin if the other twin has ADHD. Research demonstrated imbalances of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters such as dopamine and noradrenalin) within the brain, as well as differences in the development of self-management systems in the brains of individuals with ADHD (e.g. changes in areas of the brain responsible for concentration, regulation, organisation, planning, time-management, decision-making, etc.).


  • Myth 3: ADHD is over diagnosed

The facts:

ADHD is the most common psychiatric disorder in children – affecting an average of 5% of school-aged children – irrespective of in which countries or cultural groups these prevalence studies were conducted! The seeming “explosion” of ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for treatment in recent years has led to accusations that doctors, teachers, and parents are labelling ordinary, energetic children with a disease and medicating them to control normal, but unwelcome, behaviour.

Although the rate of diagnosed ADHD in children has increased over the past two decades, this is not due to “over  diagnosis”, but rather improved awareness about ADHD amongst healthcare practitioners and parents and therefore increased help-seeking behaviour and screenings. Also, because we are now more aware that ADHD persists through adolescence and into adulthood, children often continue to be treated for longer – resulting in an increase in prescriptions for ADHD treatment. Unfortunately, despite this, many children (and adults) suffering from ADHD remain undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or if diagnosed, do not receive optimal treatment.


  • Myth 4: Any child who is naughty, fidgety or talkative is diagnosed with ADHD

The facts:

Many children with ADHD are not hyperactive – but rather quiet daydreamers! ADHD is a clinical diagnosis, which should only be made by a specialist psychiatrist, paediatrician or other healthcare professional with training and expertise in the diagnosis of ADHD. Although screening children for the presence of ADHD is very important, the final diagnosis will always be confirmed by a thorough clinical assessment – which will also exclude conditions that mimic ADHD (e.g. depression, anxiety, visual problems, and certain medical conditions). In South Africa, psychiatrists use very well-researched diagnostic criteria (the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which describes the core and associated symptoms of ADHD.


  • Myth 5: ADHD is due to the “junk” we eat

The facts:

There is no scientific evidence to prove that eating sugar or junk food will cause ADHD. Although some children (both those with and those without ADHD) are particularly sensitive to certain food components (such as artificial colourants, additives, and refined sugar), and others benefit from specific food supplements (such as omegas), dietary intervention alone does not “prevent” or “cure” ADHD. If ADHD was due to foodstuff alone, then surely the prevalence would have been much higher and “everyone” would have ADHD!

However, we know that various factors are at play (see myth 2). There is little scientific evidence to show that dietary changes help with ADHD symptoms or academic functioning. However, a healthy balanced diet and regular physical exercise do form part of the ideal integrated treatment approach of children (and adults) with ADHD. It is important to treat each child as an individual and work with an appropriate professional to test what, if any, dietary changes might help improve the child’s symptoms.


  • Myth 6: Pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists are colluding for financial gain

The facts:

When a cardiologist assess a patient, discover the patient’s blood pressure is high, and start him on treatment – is he colluding with pharmaceutical companies “just to sell more medication”? I prefer to belief that healthcare providers (read: psychiatrists) always have the patient’s best interest at heart. Why would they want to do something which is bad for a child? Pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals are both bounded to strict ethical codes (and personal values) we adhere to.


  • Myth 7: ADHD medication is dangerous

The facts:

It is true that any substance or medication (including herbal remedies) has the potential for risks and side effects. When it comes to medication, it is never a decision to be taken lightly. Always carefully consider the benefits of treating the child versus the potential harm of withholding treatment.

The medications used to treat ADHD have been proven safe and effective over more than 50 years of use, and has been researched in more than 200 successful clinical trials. The most famous and often cited study is the “MTA” or “Multisite Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD” conducted in 1999 ( This 14-month randomised clinical trial of treatments in almost 600 school-aged children found medication to be superior to behaviour therapy or community care. Combined medication and behaviour therapy was found most effective, however, this was attributed to its effects on non-ADHD symptoms (e.g., oppositional / aggression, internalising, teacher rated social skills, parent-child relations, and reading achievement).

The most common side-effects children experience are a decreased appetite (and sometimes weight loss), dry mouth, headaches, stomach ache, and problems sleeping. However, most of these side-effects are mild and transient. The goal of treatment is not to subdue children or to “change their personality”! Medication does not “calm the brain down” – effective medication stimulates and improves the brain’s management system. It is important that medication should be carefully monitored and adjusted for every individual – to enhance the child’s functioning by sharpening their focus and increasing his or her ability to control their own behaviour.

Medication does not cure ADHD, but they are highly effective at easing symptoms of the disorder and enabling a child to learn better coping strategies. Also remember that treatment should always include therapy (e.g. parental guidance, addressing issues with self-esteem), educational support (e.g. learning support and strategies, and coping skills), addressing potential stressors (e.g. parental conflict, and bullying), and lifestyle changes (e.g. physical exercise and a healthy diet).

Untreated or inadequately treated ADHD can cause significant personal, interpersonal and social burdens, impacting negatively on overall quality of life. A child (and adult) with (untreated) ADHD is six times more likely to have another psychiatric disorder (such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse) or learning disorders and self-esteem problems. Research has also shown that those diagnosed with ADHD completed on average two years less of formal schooling and attained a lesser employment status than those without. The risks of using appropriate medications to treat ADHD are minimal, whereas the risks of not using medication to treat ADHD are significant.


  • Myth 8: ADHD medication is addictive and create addicts

The facts:

It is actually the opposite: treating children with ADHD protects them against becoming addicts! In a ten year follow up study of a sample of 140 boys originally aged between 6-17 years, 73% had received some level of treated with stimulants at some stage during childhood (some also continued this into adulthood). The researchers found no association between treatment with ADHD medication and alcohol, drug, or nicotine use disorders in later life. Other studies also clearly showed that untreated ADHD increased the risk to develop substance abuse problems during teenage years or later life. This may be due to impulsivity, self-medication, or failure in the educational system and getting involved in destructive friendships and behavioural patterns.



We are scared of things we do not understand or know.  Be careful of what you read – especially in the popular media and online (read: “Google”) – and believe. These sources can strengthen misperceptions and stigmatising beliefs about patients suffering from ADHD. Always discuss your concerns with a trained healthcare professional. The media is also our potential biggest allies (with a big responsibility) to create public awareness and education – and we are very grateful for the support we are experiencing. Knowledge is power – it can dispel myths, help you to have an informed opinion and to take informed decisions, with regard to ADHD.  Knowledge give wings – it helps your child to fly!