Around five per cent of school-age children are thought to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but the latest research from The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence suggests girls and women are dangerously slipping through the net because they are not showing classic symptoms of the disorder.
Diagnosed with ADHD this year at the age of 44, Michelle Beckett from Harrogate was among the 90 per cent of adults who are unaware that they have the condition.
She went through school without showing the typical external signs of hyperactivity, meaning her internal restlessness and anxiety was undetected.
Demonstrating her passion for showing that people with ADHD have extraordinary creative minds to use to their advantage, Michelle spontaneously stood up on stage at the Labour Party Conference and delivered a speech which incredibly led to her launching a parliamentary petition, a national ADHD Action charity, and a campaign for an All-Parliamentary Group. She said: "I just knew I had to do it, that I had to be heard."
In less a month, almost 7,000 people have signed Michelle’s petition calling for the Government to introduce a detailed strategy supporting the 2.5 per cent of adults and five per cent of children living with the condition - characterised by symptoms including inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
The ADHD Action charity has attracted international interest, and has already partnered with the ADHD Foundation in the United States. In a whirlwind few weeks, Michelle has met with MPs, campaigners, and won the official backing of numerous celebrities living with ADHD, including the likes of comedian Rory Bremner.
Hugely passionate about ensuring frontline services are trained to spot symptoms as early as possible - including schools as well as the emergency services, Michelle doesn’t want to see anyone else having to struggle for decades without answers, without referral, and without diagnosis.
Michelle said: “What’s really alarming is the many missed opportunities there are to pick up on ADHD. It really makes you think about the number of people who could have been saved or helped.
"I always knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t think it was ADHD. I saw ADHD as just physical hyperactivity.
“I was restless, untidy, overly chatty and a bit disorganised. I found difficulty with personal relationships and I had a sensitivity to rejection. I had problems with my self esteem, and found myself getting upset and feeling anxious.
“I think girls who are not particularly struggling with their work definitely get missed. With boys it can be less internal and more external showing their hyperactivity. Teachers at primary school thought my restlessness was just boredom, as I was very bright and finished my work faster than my classmates.”
Six years ago a neuroscientist in York told Michelle that her brainwave patterns suggested she had ADHD, but she dismissed the diagnosis, thinking she could sit still and didn’t have any of the classic signs.
But after feeling suicidal in December last year, Michelle sought a private diagnosis.
She said: “In an incredibly raw state of overwhelm, I painfully drove to a railway viaduct a few miles from my house and only just stopped myself from jumping to my death.
“I felt like I was such a waste of oxygen. You can quickly get into a spiral of depressive episodes, feeling that you are behind the scenes trying really hard to be like everyone else.
“There can be a real sense of shame attached to that. Some people still believe that ADHD is made up. People can be ashamed and don’t want to talk about it.
"Then there is the stigma that medication turns kids into zombies and that people think it is over-prescribed, when the irony is that it’s under-diagnosed, there is a lack of awareness.”
Overcoming two failed marriages and the breakdown of a working relationship, Michelle has channelled all of her negative experiences into an extraordinary determination to help others, and also currently works as a successful business consultant.
She said: “My vision is if you ask a person in the street, they will know what ADHD is, know that it is real, know how many have it, and how it is treated.
"I want people to know that it is as real as autism, that it is another neuro-diverse condition, and is 80 per cent genetic.
“I want to challenge the prevailing thought that it is a disease of childhood, when actually over half of kids with ADHD still go on to have it as adults.”
Another element of the ADHD Action charity will be looking into running a recruitment company to boost self esteem among people living with the condition.
Michelle said: “People can use the way that the ADHD brain operates to their advantage. There are so many creative and talented people out there with ADHD, people should remember that it is not their fault that they have it.
"I’m delighted with the momentum that ADHD Action has gathered. This is due to tremendous support - it’s a team effort from the entire ADHD community in the UK. There are lots of people affected by ADHD, and many keep it hidden because of the stigma, or suspect they have it, but it’s so hard to get referred.”
Backing the ADHD Action charity, Rory Bremner said: "It is beyond time that ADHD was more widely understood. If we can crack this, we can relieve the torment of families struggling for support and unleash a huge wave of creative, energetic talent instead. It's that big."
Michelle is inviting Harrogate residents to get behind the national campaign by visiting the ADHD Action website, where details of the petition can also be found: www.adhdaction.org