“Ignorance Is The Root And Stem Of All Evil.” ~ Plato
Mental Health is a very wide spectrum. There’s lots of opinions about all sorts of illnesses, deficits, and disorders across it’s very massive landscape. Today I’m going to talk about one specific “Disorder” which is commonly mislabeled and misdiagnosed.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
How many people have “ADHD”?
A meta-analysis of 175 research studies worldwide on ADHD prevalence in children aged 18 and under found an overall pooled estimate of 7.2% (Thomas et al. 2015). The US Census Bureau estimates 1,795,734,009 people were aged 5–19 worldwide in 2013. Thus, 7.2% of this total population is 129 million — a rough estimate of the number of children worldwide who have ADHD.
Based on DSM-IV screening of 11,422 adults for ADHD in 10 countries in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, the estimates of worldwide adult ADHD prevalence averaged 3.4% (Fayyad et al. 2007)
According to a screen for ADHD in 3,199 adults aged 18–44 from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), 4.4% of US adults have ADHD. Of these adults with ADHD, 38% are women and 62% are men.
– See more at: General Prevalence
With everything going on in the current world of mass media there are a very wide range of misconceptions, misinterpretations, and flat out inaccurate information being thrown into the world. First off you must be aware that these misnomers are not just in regards to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) but they apply to the world of mental health at large. But today, let’s stay focused on this one.
Secondly you should know I was diagnosed with “ADHD” roughly 12 years ago and have read a vast array of articles about it. I’m an active supporter of movements to further our understanding of it.
As far as the “ADHD” side of things, Psychiatrist Dr. Ned Hallowell speaks about how misunderstood the “disorder” really is in this video:
Dr. Hallowell refers to “ADHD” as having the “Entrepreneur’s Trait.” He also notes that “ADHD” can give one an advantage if it’s handled correctly. That’s a BIG “If.”
The fact of the matter is, there’s a lot to it we still aren’t aware of however one important theory I’d like to discuss today connects “ADHD” to human evolution.
“The Hunter vs. Farmer Hypothesis”
Not enough is said about The Hunter vs. Farmer Hypothesis. What it emphasizes is the fact that people with ADHD have lower amounts of the brain chemical dopamine and in turn proposes that this difference has happened for evolutionary reasons.
What is Dopamine?
Dictionary definition of Dopamine:
- a compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and a precursor of other substances including epinephrine.
That definition seemed a little bland so I looked a little deeper….
What if this lower amount of dopamine (“ADHD”) is merely an evolutionary trait?
Let’s look a little deeper. The Hunter Vs. Farmer Hypothesis proposes that humans over the course of the last 10,000 years, though really going back to the cavemen (and women) have lived in 2 kinds of worlds.
- Hunting / Gathering Worlds
- Agricultural worlds.
In this video brilliant radio host, author, former psychotherapist Thom Hartmann discusses the differences between Hunter and Farmer and how they are directly connected to what we consider “ADHD”.
Let’s look at the 3 gigantic traits that are present in those with “ADHD” that Hartmann outlined in the video and how they apply to Hunting and Gathering worlds vs. The Agricultural worlds. I am going to sum them up as Hartmann did. These are loosely similar words he used in the video.
People with “ADHD” tend to have these 3 core symptoms:
For a hunter if you’re going through the forest looking for lunch if you’re constantly scanning your environment looking for danger..it’s not so much a lack of focus as it is a primitive survival skill.
But in the agricultural world if you’re constantly picking bugs off plants hour after day, day after day, week after week, month after month it doesn’t work. You’ll get bored. You’ll constantly be looking out at those mountains on the horizon for signs of danger.
If you’re a hunter and chasing a rabbit through the woods and you see a deer run by you don’t have time do a risk benefit analysis.
You’ve got to make a decision and be acting on that decision before you even realize that you’ve engaged in a cognitive process.
Hartmann even says behavior preceding awareness of cognition is literally the dictionary definition of impulsivity.
Another survival skill for hunters!
3. The Need For High Levels of Arousal
In the hunting / gathering world the person who’s going to be the most successful is the person that gets up in the morning and says let’s go take risks and hunt! Let’s go run in the woods and dream, discover, dare, and scavenge.
While the risk-averse person is going to say there’s lions, tigers, and bears out there. I’m going to stay here in the cave and starve. They’re going to say I’m going to water the crops and enjoy growing my corn.
Hartmann mentions that the risk-averse person has no problem with sitting on the front porch and watching the wheat grow for seven or eight weeks before it’s time to harvest.
Seems to be being trapped in this farming environment for a hunter would be an anxiety-inducing experience. They’d want to be out diving in waterfalls, finding big cities, and dancing on rooftops. The longer they’re trapped at the farm, they more they want to dance the cha-cha on a carriage top in Chicago.
So OF COURSE hyper-activity builds in the hunters. They’ve got ants in their pants and are ready to hop!
Hartmann also wisely proposes changing peoples environments and how putting people that are lower on dopamine (“ADHD” hunters) in environments of higher stimulation where they’d be more prone to thrive could very well be the viable solution. Whether this is in law enforcement, entertainment, politics, fitness, or any form of “Entrepreneurship” where these people can be their very best. Perhaps Hartmann is very much on to something.
The farmers on the other hand are happier doing jobs at a desk in their day to day. They like the office. The peace of silence. They are happy being an accountant, a stockbroker, or a teacher.
Sidebar: Hunters and Farmers can be any occupation on either side. I am speaking in general terms.
Both Hunters and Farmers can be prone to drive each other crazy simply because of their brain wiring which directly correlates to thousands of years of human evolution.
My personal thoughts on this is Hartmann and Hallowell are firmly on to something here.
Over the course of the last 50–75 years is it possible we have mislabeled people with the term “ADHD” as if something is wrong with them and they are broken?
What if they aren’t broken at all but simply are not in the environment where they can thrive?
How do we reform our education system to cater to both sides equally?
What About Medication?
So this brings me to the next major item. What if the various drugs that are prescribed for “ADHD” upon raising dopamine levels, merely are making hunters more like farmers. And, is this a good thing?
Medications such as Adderall and Ritalin raise the levels of dopamine thereby allowing the hunters to feel “stimulated”. Suddenly they can focus better and don’t have the need to “run into the woods” searching for food. When suddenly these hunters can “hear” the words of the farmers and complete the tasks the farmers do, in our 2018 world what if this only emphasizes that their positive hunter-esque traits simultaneously allowing them to thrive?
Is Medication A Problem?
As I see it, there’s 3 big problems with medication:
- Side effects. Prescription drugs have proven to have various side effects that can effect people often times in negative ways.
- Too many people are being mis-prescribed medication and mis-diagnosed with “ADHD”. If Adderall (and other drugs like it) is given to a “farmer” who has an even level of dopamine it’s going to enhance their focus (and in turn productivity) however it also is going to make them feel WIRED and more prone to side effects. There’s scientific proof that “Hunters” take drugs like Adderall and it actually calms them (an opposite effect!) simply because it’s bringing their dopamine level up to how it would be as a farmer.
- If “farmers” are prescribed medication and they do not have “ADHD” is it unreasonable to conclude that they could be even more prone to side effects (especially addiction) simply because the drug is serving more as a vice than one that really is there to help them thrive longterm.
What about the pros of medication?
Tests also show that medication has made huge differences in people’s lives (me being one of them). It’s helped people who really do have “ADHD” in very positive ways. So we cannot turn our back completely on medication. There are certain circumstances where it is necessary and indeed very helpful. The bad news is, it is massively over-prescribed for “disorders” that are wildly over-diagnosed. This we need to fix.
What about changing people’s environment?
Currently many tests are being done, but changing the environment for people based on these levels definitely does seem like a viable solution for the future. As we continue to evolve and progress as humans one can’t help but conclude that these differences in brain chemicals very likely do connect directly to our lifestyles, goals, dreams, ambitions, personal lives, and occupations.
What system can we put in place for those with the “Entrepreneur’s Trait” aka. The Hunters as opposed to The Farmers to whom the vast majority of our current schooling is geared towards? Perhaps a more focused education curriculum. An educational journey that would help them enter the right fields of work based on their strengths.
I‘ll conclude with 3 Big Changes that need to be made:
- Stop over-diagnosing and under-diagnosing “ADHD”. Everyone must be clear on what exactly it is.
- Be very careful about prescriptions. Only prescribe when needed. Perhaps some type of spectrum could be developed within “ADHD” to help doctors determine to what degree medication is needed if the patient does indeed have “ADHD”.
- Get pro-active about reforming education and environment for the modern-day Hunter Types (the entrepreneurs!) so that they have the same chance to thrive as the agricultural farmers have for the last few centuries.
By answering these questions perhaps one day in the not so distant future we could phase out the use of medication and have a brighter, more developed world where people of all types of brains can thrive, reach their full potential, and live their dreams.
See you soon.
By Geoff Pilkington
You can connect with me at: www.geoffreypilkington.com
Originally published at medium.com