Billionaire entrepreneurs, Gold medal winning Olympic athletes and entertainers, and pulitzer prize newspaper columnists have gone public with ADHD but up until now no elected politician in Canada or in the US has gone public with having ADHD that I’ve been able to find. I’ve searched the web and asked many people in both Canada and the US who work with people with ADHD.
This is despite many politicians going public with depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc.
I’m a political science major who has ADHD, coaches adults with ADHD and who started working on political campaigns at 16 and I’m a long time politics junkie. I think many politicians have ADHD but are afraid to go public with it.
There are many reasons why ADHD can be an asset as a politician that I’ll list below. I’ve talked to others who work in politics behind the scenes who know ADHD and they agree.
So I was surprised and happy to hear the first elected politician to go public with having ADHD was in my city of Vancouver. Sarah Blyth is a Vancouver parks commissioner and a member of Vision Vancouver and she went public with ADHD in the Georgia Straight Newspaper print and online. I was also quoted in the article written by Matthew Burrows.
Here’s more information about Sarah Blyth. Sarah was a
founding partner of the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition and helped secure the declaration of Skateboard Week, the relaxing of the ban on skateboarding on city streets, and the development of five new skateparks.
She works at the New Fountain Homeless Shelter in the Vancouver’s Down Town East Side and is a founding member of Portland FC, a soccer team that started out from the New Fountain Homeless Shelter.
Here are some reasons why ADHD can be a competitive advantage as an elected politician:
- very curious
- good at multitasking
- good at scanning their environment and noticing what others miss, except for paperwork:) lucky many have staff for that
- high energy levels for those 14 hour days
- can hyperfocus for hours like a laser IF interested
- not afraid to question or challenge authority
- not afraid of changing the status quo
- very adaptable
Here are some quotes from staff writer Matthew Burrows’s great article on Sarah Blyth in the Georgia Straight
Not surprisingly, Blyth said she looks back on her school days with a certain horror but has learned to have a sense of humour about what were chaotic days.
“Well, you’re more aggressive,” Blyth added. “You’re different socially, I think, when you’ve got attention deficit disorder, especially when you’re hyperactive, because you tend to be a bit impulsive. So you’re poking other kids and fighting. I was a big fighter and a big poker, you know?”
When asked why she was going public with ADHD, Sarah Blyth gave an answer I hope more politicians will one day to develop the courage to do.
Now Blyth is going public about her condition, she said, in part so that other kids won’t suffer the same way she did.
“Mainly, I want to raise it because it’s more about learning disabilities and mental-health issues and kids growing up, and I feel like, maybe if they looked at me, they could go, ‘Well, she’s sort of doing stuff with her life, even though she had challenges growing up,’ ” Blyth said.
“That’s why I wanted to, because I know that young kids suffer. When I was told as a kid that I had a learning disability, you think there’s something wrong with you. You know that you are different and you learn differently.”
I asked Sarah Blyth some questions about ADHD, here are her answers:
Pete Quily: When did you suspect you might have ADHD? Did someone else family member friend work colleague suggest you might have ADHD before getting diagnosed? How did you respond at the time?
Sarah Blyth: I was diagnosed when I was a child in grade 1. I didn’t understand what it meant I just knew I was different
Pete Quily: Many ADHD adults stay hidden in the ADHD closet because strong stigma against ADHD, what finally made you decide to go public with ADHD?
Sarah Blyth: The only reason was that I want people with learning disabilities and mental illness to know that they can achieve their dreams just like anyone else.
Pete Quily: How have your Vision Vancouver colleagues reacted to you going public with ADHD?
Sarah Blyth: My Vision Colleagues have been really supportive. I feel really supported and accepted for who I am and my abilities. I don’t make excuses for who I am. If someone asked me if I would give up having ADHD as annoying as it is sometimes…I would say no way Jose, its what makes me, me.
Sarah Blyth: I think this is an issue that crosses party lines. I think to go after me politically for being open about having ADHD would be a bad political move though I am sure the NPA have given it some thought. lol
Pete Quily: How have your family and friends reacted to you going public with ADHD?
Sarah Blyth: They have all been really supportive.
Pete Quily: How have the voters reacted to you going public with ADHD?
Sarah Blyth: I have had so many wonderful letters. I will say that I have heard from folks that can’t speak about having ADHD for fear of being judged at work school or by family and friends. Its very stigmatized, people don’t see it as an attractive trait even though it has many benefits.
Pete Quily: What are some of the benefits of having ADHD?
Sarah Blyth: Hyper Focus, multi tasking, outgoing, take risks
Pete Quily: The only public clinic in BC diagnosing Adult ADHD the BC adult ADHD clinic was forced to shut down in 2007 after a year to 14 month wait list for an entire year. The asked the BC liberal govt for funding to deal with the wait list and they refused and they shut down the clinic. I asked the office of the then BC NDP health critic and now leader of the BC NDP Adrian Dix to raise the issue in the legislature but just got shuffled around, promises made and ignored.
During a town hall I asked BC Premier Christy Clark about reopening the BC Adult ADHD clinic and she said “I’m absolutely committed to working with you on it”
and this was reported both by CKNW radio and the CBC, the audio is on my blog.
Drugs and crime are very common issues in the news and in politics in Vancouver yet no one is talking about the high rates of people with ADHD who are self medicating with drugs and alcohol, 20+% of addicts have ADHD vs 5% of the population.
Given ADHD is 80% genetic and only one out of ten adults with ADHD get diagnosed, do you support reopening the BC adult ADHD clinic at an adult hospital? What needs to be done to make it happen?
Sarah Blyth: I would say we need more support and facilities to diagnose and treat ADHD so I am surprised the province would be shutting facilities down. There is definitely not enough support and many needlessly suffer because of it.
Pete Quily: You’re doing a great thing by going public with ADHD but most Vancouver politicians in ALL parties totally ignore ADHD.
Sarah Blyth: Well I’m listening:) And hopefully we can raise some awareness.
Pete Quily: As a political science major and long time politics junkie I think a lot of politicians have ADHD, it’s actually a competitive edge in politics ie we’re naturally curious, have high levels of energy, not afraid to question or challenge authority, not afraid to ask questions, good at multitasking, can hyperfocus for hours like a laser IF interested, creative problem solver, good in a crisis, good at scanning their environment and noticing what others miss, except for paperwork:) very adaptable, etc
Plus many entrepreneurs, athletes, entertainers and people in high tech have gone public with ADHD but as far as I an tell by searching and asking many ADHD professionals, you’re the first elected politician in North America who’s gone public with ADHD.
Given that plus elected politicians have gone public with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar, alcoholism, drug addictions etc, Why haven’t more politicians gone public with ADHD?
Sarah Blyth: I don’t know, perhaps they will now:)
Pete Quily: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with my ADHD readers?
Sarah Blyth: Don’t forget to breathe…
If you know of any elected politician in Canada or the US who has ADHD, and that has the guts to step out of the ADHD closet and go public, please let me know.