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In our everyday lives, we often hear, read or talk about mental health. But what is it that the term actually means? According to the World Health Organization , mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder and is defined as a state of well-being. Being mentally healthy means that you engage in productive activities that help you grow and develop. It means you have fulfilling relationships that make you feel happier, stronger and supported. And most importantly, being mentally healthy means you have the ability to adapt and cope with adversity or stress when it happens.

Although many people the world over are living contented lives in a positive state of mental health, mental disorders are commonly occurring and often seriously impairing a significant proportion of the world’s population.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood brain disorder that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention and staying focused, impulsive behaviour and hyperactivity. These symptoms can make it difficult for a child with ADHD to succeed in school, complete tasks and get along with others.

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The National Institute of Mental Health describes inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity as the key behaviours of ADHD. While it is normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, these behaviours are more severe and occur more often in children with ADHD. Common signs of ADHD include:

  • Difficulty paying attention and easily distractible
  • Frequently daydreaming
  • Difficulty following through on instructions and apparently not listening
  • Often fails to finish schoolwork, chores or other tasks
  • Frequently forgetful and regularly loses items
  • Fidgets or squirms
  • Difficulty remaining seated and seeming to be in constant motion
  • Excessively talkative
  • Frequently interrupts or intrudes on others' conversations or games
  • Has trouble taking turns
  • Has difficulty getting along with others.
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The causes and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, but current research shows that genetics plays an important role. Other factors have also been implicated in the development of ADHD. These include problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development, as well as certain environmental factors.

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Determining whether a child has ADHD is a several step process. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other conditions can have similar symptoms. Your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out other possibilities for the symptoms. The doctor may then assess your child for ADHD themselves, but many will refer the family to a mental health specialist to take a checklist for rating ADHD symptoms, as well as a history of your child’s behaviour. 

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In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behaviour therapy. Medication, as prescribed by a physician, is often used to help normalise brain activity while behaviour therapy is helpful in teaching coping skills and adaptive behaviours. No single treatment is the answer for every child and effective treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups and any changes needed along the way.

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