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A World Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(Part 2 of a 2-Part Series)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Beyond ADHD, the highly anticipated book by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling, will release worldwide from Rowman-Littlefield Publishers on August 16. Pre-ordering is available now.)

Happiness and excitement filled our hearts as we drove across the 401 highway in Ontario, Canada, destined for the U.S. border. Our happiness was borne by the anticipation of the answers I might receive at our destination, answers that would explain and perhaps present new directions in a life I’d had such a hard time understanding, right down to my ADHD diagnosis five years before

— From Beyond ADHD, by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling

Jeff Emmerson’s revolutionary look at the ADHD diagnosing and prescribing epidemic, Beyond ADHD, breaks down into two parts: the current environment and pressures that are causing so much diagnosing and prescribing; and looking ahead into much more helpful, progressive, and successful ways of working with those dealing with attention issues.

In this segment of our interview, Jeff gives us a peek into Part II, and how things might look if we utilized fitness, diet, further education, behavioral therapy and other approaches — approaches that, frankly, feed the whole person — rather than the current prescribe-first mentality.

Word Journeys: One of your biggest supporters of this book is Dr. Allen Frances, the former chair of John Hopkins Medical School and esteemed chair of the DSM-IV committee, which sets diagnosis and prescription guidelines for more than 300 defined mental health issues. What did Dr. Frances tell you that further inspired you to address these issues?

Emmerson: When I discovered his stance on ADHD, current diagnosing standards and his beliefs about the big-picture of what it is to be “normal” these days, I was immediately refreshed (if surprised at the same time). He confirmed my fears early on when he spoke about true ADHD diagnosis prevalence being around 4 percent in American children. Considering he was the Chair of the DSM-IV task force, this was very, very believable. After all, it would be only too easy for him (of all people) to “toe the party line,” but no – he told the truth, even when it wasn’t convenient. He also speaks adamantly about the current opioid crisis and many other topics in healthcare that are severely lacking, ones we need to address with courage, honesty and the desire to get ahead of them before epidemics come forth any more then the opioid one already has, frankly. ADHD may well be on the same path in its own way.

Word Journeys: Another big supporter of alternative approaches, and Beyond ADHD, is Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, director of the SENG Institute for Gifted Children. Can you speak to how focusing on a child’s or adult’s gifts, and their natural hunter-gatherer minds, actually takes us beyond the ADHD mindset?

Emmerson: It’s funny what we can achieve when three key things (are allowed to) happen:

  • Our natural abilities are uncovered, focused on and supported;
  • We’re taught to have a “growth-mindset” that teaches self-resilience and focusing on lessons to be learned from every “failure or mistake;” and
  • Different learners or personalities from the “norm” are empowered in environments that focus on strengths and don’t force them to learn in areas that they may have zero interest in (those not needed for day to day life).

Self-worth, confidence, positive morale toward society, and inspiration toward imagination and self-growth need to be taught and nurtured in education systems more than ever. A new day has arrived. We need to buy into the medical model for being “different” and focus instead upon the unique abilities and passions that each of us have within. This cookie-cutter approach to education (at the cost of any alternatives for many millions of us) simply doesn’t cut it, and it’s showing in a number of ways in a profoundly “sick” society.

Word Journeys: What role has Big Pharma played in the increase in ADHD diagnoses?

Jeff Emmerson: An immense one, more than many of us might realize. From suggestive advertising to Americans and those in New Zealand via television to funding healthcare providers, offering incentives to drug reps and physicians to advertising in more subtle ways through online media outlets, and through heavily influencing research findings, they pretty much have their hands in everything, not to mention the U.S. government, in a huge way. While medications definitely help some live better lives, there are billions of dollars changing hands, so following the money to understand its potential influence is of crucial importance.

Word Journeys: A growing number of people think ADHD is a catch-basin, not really an affliction, but more a convenient label for what could be a hundred different things. What is your opinion of that?

Emmerson: I get where they’re coming from! Let’s use some common sense for a moment. I believe that the diagnosis does help some in a wonderful way; I know it does, in fact. I’ve been told tons of stories from others, and I’m all for whatever empowers and helps people learn more about themselves and tools toward self-worth, resilience and most of all, self-awareness. However, the pendulum has swung way too far in favor of rushed, ill-informed ADHD diagnoses to put a band-aid on issues we simply aren’t equipped to address at their deeper cores.

Once I discovered how easily I was wrongly diagnosed with ADHD, my world was never the same again. I saw the elephant in the room where ADHD is concerned: What it is; how to diagnose it (as a diagnosis of exclusion since nearly one hundred other true root causes mimic it); and how to treat it/see it in society. I could NOT, in good conscience, let this newfound awareness go. My soul screamed to bring it to the world through building the largest online community I humanly could.

Word Journeys: You combined your personal stories with the pressing issues in Beyond ADHD. What did you learn about your own journey while weaving your stories into the material?

Emmerson: First of all, I quickly realized that I’m far from alone in living with these symptoms. Beyond that, I’m both humbled and fiercely driven from all the learning I’ve done over the last four years or so. I now have three or four additional book topics in mind for future projects (based in mental health and current society) that I know are needed desperately by millions of people going through challenges in this realm (including those who care for them in any number of capacities).

I also learned (and confirmed to myself) that even if life seems lost, even if the conventional road to what society calls success doesn’t work and we make mistakes that seem insurmountable (with the shame that often comes with them), we CAN completely turn things around with the right support, shift in mindset and faith/resilience. Man, that’s the most humbling part of it all for me – that and seeing others who have been somehow touched by my efforts. I now want others to feel the way I do. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. Everything from here on in is icing on the cake.

Word Journeys: If you could envision a society beyond the current ADHD protocols, what would it look like?    

Emmerson: We’d re-evaluate current education, healthcare, food, water, industry, parenting and other social support structures/initiatives in society. Then, I’d look beyond labeling in psychiatry/psychology and look at ways to evolve through a strengths-based approach, entrenched in a solid foundation from as young as possible. From there, massive investment into the collective well-being of society would be made in forms we deem most important from both macro and micro perspectives while ensuring minimal waste of said investments to ensure well-targeted and efficient service to society. It would be tracked and watched to constantly be improved upon as time passes and the world evolves/encounters challenges. That would be a good start.

As we know, it’s much easier to raise a healthy, equipped child by investing in their upbringing than it is to try and mend a distressed or “damaged” adult human being. We should always be mindful of that — from the moment we become parents, educators or healthcare providers.

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The Mastermind Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(First of a 2-Part Series)

I’ve been involved with many fascinating book projects over the years. However, none are as potentially impactful socially as Beyond ADHD: Overcoming the Label and Thriving, the book I wrote with Canadian ADHD expert Jeff Emmerson to be released globally by Rowman-Littlefield on August 16. You can pre-order it on Amazon.com.

Beyond ADHD is a critical book for our times. In the last 30 years, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has gone from a rarely diagnosed disorder to an industry hundreds of billions of dollars in size, fed by all sectors of society. It involves:

  • Ten percent of the North American population;
  • Concerned educators, employers and parents who send fidgety or inattentive workers or kids to the doctor or school nurse’s office;
  • Overworked doctors that prescribe quickly from nine-point checklists;
  • Pharmaceutical companies (“Big Pharma”) eager to sell powerful prescription drugs that impact the patient’s biochemistry (often negatively);
  • A compliant (until recently) media slanted heavily toward “diagnose-and-prescribe”, writing articles that spread the idea you can only treat ADHD with drugs;
  • An equally compliant educational system, employees on the lookout for disruptive or hyperactive kids — and, in some cases, using approved course materials provided by Big Pharma, which promotes ADHD as a lifetime disorder, versus something we can get beyond;
  • A U.S. Congress so heavily lobbied by Big Pharma (532 of the current 535 members received campaign contributions) that they won’t move to quash Big Pharma’s grip on pricing; and
  • A public so gripped by busyness, technological and social stimulation that their neurological systems are overloaded. Many assume it to be ADHD or another mental health disorder diagnosed as fast as, well, a prescription can be written. If this dynamic sounds like a part of America’s woeful prescription drug story, well, it is.

Beyond ADHD Author Jeff Emmerson

Those are the departure points for Beyond ADHD. The book revolves around Emmerson’s life and experiences, instructive and harrowing at times, but also a cautionary tale into why you don’t diagnose someone with ADHD and give them powerful prescriptions in 15 minutes (the average time one spends in a doctor’s office before getting this diagnosis and prescription!).

I first met Emmerson via Twitter in late 2012, his chosen platform for discussing ADHD and mental health issues. What a platform it is, with more than 700.000 highly engaged followers, including medical, mental health and social health experts who worked with us on Beyond ADHD. He also has a large video blog audience, and more than 15,000 LinkedIn followers. After a difficult first 35 years of life, Emmerson was diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. In 2015, he met with Michigan-based neuroscientist Dr. Timothy Royer, who shattered the diagnosis after considerable testing — which led to this book.

With four weeks until Beyond ADHD releases, I decided to interview Emmerson, to give you a taste of his forward-thinking perspective, one that brought me right to the table to co-author this book. In this first part of our interview (part two will be posted Friday, July 21), you can see in Emmerson’s answers numerous options, causes and ways of working with this that, frankly, are woefully underused.

WordJourneys: What inspired and motivated you to create Beyond ADHD?

Jeff Emmerson: My own journey through the mental health system. Or, to be more specific, how I was diagnosed with ADHD after a suicide attempt in 2011 and what I discovered when my intuition told me to dig deeper into other possible reasons for the symptoms and battles I’ve faced for many years. I saw a desperately failing diagnostic system that made rushing to diagnosis way too common. I knew I had to speak out so that others might be able to avoid the “murky waters” of misdiagnosis through deeper understanding of just how faulty ADHD diagnosing is for millions.

WordJourneys: What are the three biggest issues with the way we currently diagnose and prescribe ADHD?

Emmerson: Number One: Not ruling nearly enough out first through a collaborative, inter-disciplinary team approach that treats ADHD/ADD as a diagnosis of exclusion (not the other way around);

Number Two: Not making other interventions (instead of simply medication) just as high of a priority (such as behavior therapy, brain training, nutritional counseling, looking at alternate learning/schooling options, physical activity, creative outlets, trauma at home being assessed, etc.);

Number Three: Not digging deeper after a diagnosis is made, and/or assuming that medication use needs to be permanent. Self-resilience and accountability must be held to very high standards as part of treatment. In other words, treat the whole person, not simply diagnose, medicate and leave them to their own devices without on-going support and education into self-reliance and growth.

WordJourneys: Why is ADHD diagnosed at such a high rate now? Do we really have that many afflicted adults and children, or is it something else?

Emmerson: My deepest fear (and gut feeling) is that so-called ADHD (in millions of cases) is a band-aid diagnosis made because we simply don’t have the knowledge, research or resources to dig deeper and actually address some key contributing issues no one talks about: chemicals in tap water, air quality, societal “norms” industry-wise, increasing tech addiction, poorer sleep quality, and many other root causes for symptoms. Instead, we use stimulant medication to see if it “works” and leave it at that (assuming ADHD and making it a potentially permanent diagnosis on someone’s medical records, a whole other issue for several reasons).

WordJourneys: The education system has played an increasing role in getting kids to ADHD diagnoses. Is this a good or bad thing — and why?

Emmerson: This infuriates me, and here’s why: Some kids may benefit from diagnosis and treatment, but factors such as date of birth (what time of the year a child is born), learning differences, root-cause factors for ADHD-like symptoms (many of them) and other issues are way too easily turned into a rushed ADHD diagnosis. Frankly, much of our education system is antiquated and obsolete in relation to the technological age we’re living in, so we need to hold education policy makers to task, just as much as we weed out children who seem to be acting out in any number of ways. After all, some of the world’s most innovative and creative people disliked conventional school very passionately. We need to do something about this desperate need for wholesome, 360-degree learning to become the norm (to start with, anyway).

WordJourneys: What are the challenges facing doctors and mental health professionals in treating the whole person, rather than just the ADHD?

Emmerson: Resources. Funding for thorough, holistic care is scarce in the United States, especially in the mental health realm, and there is heavy pressure to reduce that even further. What’s even bigger is that investments in education toward self-awareness, resilience, and extra-curricular activities, and incentives for families to stay healthy both physically and emotionally, are dwindling away. The unfortunate reality for many healthcare professionals is that insurance companies and profits for medical practices push more and more patients to be seen in shorter and shorter time-spans, resulting in rushed, insufficient care. Profits can still be made while taking the proper time to treat patients holistically and fully. We just need to help the system evolve and incentivize providers in new ways that benefit all.

(Part 2 will appear Friday, July 21, on The Word Journeys Blog.)

To pre-order Beyond ADHD

 

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