Health & Fitness

Attention-deficit might be hurting your work

One symptom can be a sign of a number of different disorders. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Qn: What could be wrong with me…I have this endless challenge of meeting deadlines at work. I have unsuccessfully tried to kick off this habit. Is it psychological?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most misunderstood, yet easy to treat medical conditions. One of its classical symptom is the tendency to procrastinate, in which the person waits until the last possible moment before completing a task. A student will for example wait until a few days before an exam to go into a crash mode of study.

An office worker such as yourself will postpone things until the last possible moment before handing it in. It seems as though those with the condition need an extra “boost of adrenaline” before they can perform their duties. Is this perhaps what you are asking us about?

Just to be clear, ADHD is a very common condition that affects up to 10 per cent of the population. Being so common, it is best considered as a condition rather than a disease in the normal sense of the word. It does however qualify to be a diagnostic category in the severe forms which might attract care from a qualified professional. Sounds complicated? It is, a little, because the symptoms of the condition exist in a continuum from minimal and mild to severe and disabling.

In your case, it might be that your symptom of procrastination is so severe that you end up not giving in your work on time. For many people however, some delay in getting to hand in the work does not lead to any significant issues.


This leads us to a new territory in the discussion and understanding of mental illness. Some conditions can be said to be either present or absent with a degree of confidence and certainty (categorical conditions). An example will help.

When a psychiatrist says that so and so is suffering from a psychosis, he means two things. One that the person is experiencing delusions and possibly hallucinations, and two that normal healthy people do not go through this type of experiences. To put it differently, delusions and hallucinations are categorically mental disorders. Only persons with mental disorders go through this type of experience.

When a person who has been bereaved is described as depressed or anxious, then there is room for debate as to whether the depression and anxiety experienced are of a normal level, or are so severe that a line has to be crossed, and a mental disorder is diagnosable on account of either duration or severity!

Anxiety and depression (unlike delusions and hallucinations) can exist in the healthy person. They exist in a continuum from mild (normal) to severe and possibly disease. This concept of mental disorders existing in these two rather different forms, is the source of much confusion and debate among lay people.

For many years, many psychiatrists were upset by lay people who confidently and with a measure of ignorance made the statement “we are all mad, it is only a matter of degree.” Most people would then go on to a silly giggle as though this ignorance absolved them from common sense. For many such people, no amount of exploration would liberate the lay persons from their long held convictions on the nature of mental disorder.

For the removal of doubt, the mental health expert is trained to make clinical diagnosis, and should be able to explain and describe the reasons behind the diagnosis of say anxiety disorder, and how it differs from the anxiety that comes before the first visit to the in-laws. The first is an illness the other a normal human reaction.

Coming back to you and your inability to meet deadlines, the specialist who might help you would want to establish if you have any other symptoms. If for example your difficulty is due to ADHD, you might for example have symptoms of poor concentration with a wondering mind, and your friends and family might have complained that you are one who gets bored easily and might be impulsive in the ways that you go shopping and spend money you do not have.

There are other symptoms that might support this diagnosis.

If on the other hand the challenge of meeting deadlines is due to a depressive illness, the expert will establish that you have other symptoms such as sadness, fearfulness, feelings of hopelessness as well as feelings of a lack of self-worth. You might be feeling so low that suicide might seem like the only option. Inability to meet deadlines might therefore be one symptom of a deeper mental disorder.

One symptom can be a sign of a number of different disorders. Only an expert can tell you whether this is a normal reaction or it is something more serious.