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ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is undoubtedly a huge part to play in the entrepreneurial success of swim brand, SOUL CAP, over the past few years. Our co-founder, Michael Chapman, was diagnosed in 2017 and has been embracing his individual way of working ever since.
To raise awareness and shed new light on the topic, we spoke to three young Black men from London working in different industries who learned about their ADHD in their adult years – to get a real-world, first-hand view of how the condition affects their everyday lives.
In the UK alone, it's estimated that up to 1.5 million adults are living with ADHD – but only 120,000 have a confirmed diagnosis. That means almost 1.4 million adults could be living with undiagnosed ADHD.
"When I was growing up, there was definitely a lot less understanding of ADHD," said Michael Chapman, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and the co-founder of SOUL CAP. "During my diagnosis, we looked back over my old school reports. My teachers had said things like capable and intelligent, but lacks attention and talks too much – and now all of that makes a lot more sense."
This lack of awareness in teachers and parents means that thousands of young people could be going undiagnosed every year. And if the teachers and parents don't have awareness of ADHD, it's even less likely that the kids will recognise the patterns in themselves.
"I've always had an animated personality," said Selecta Suave, a 23-year-old international DJ and Music Producer. "And I've always had trouble controlling how loud I am and keeping still. Up until my preconceptions on ADHD got debunked earlier this year, I’d assumed it was just a “me” thing like everyone else around me did’.
Without the right understanding of ADHD and how it affects us, it's easy for teachers and parents to dismiss the symptoms as disengagement or poor behaviour – which can cause problems with motivation and success for kids who don't get the support they need.
But while ADHD can affect anyone, this dismissal of symptoms can be even worse for young Black men:
"Being of colour, I definitely feel there was an element of labelling my behaviour," said Michael. "There's a massive issue in stereotyping Black boys as naughty – as opposed to investigating further."
"The most frustrating thing in the workplace is when others question your working methods," said Toby Williams, a 26-year-old Assistant Headteacher at an inner-city school. "They have their own ideas of productivity and organisation, and your methods often don't align with them. It can feel like a continuation into adulthood of the stereotype that Black boys with ADHD are troublemakers."
It's a problem that's not limited to any one industry – and it's a problem with effects that go beyond the work itself.
"I found it difficult to adapt to working conditions designed for neurotypical people," said Selecta Suave. "And in turn, I was constantly beating myself up for not being able to keep up."
"ADHD is like a motor running that doesn't stop," said Michael. "Even if I'm in bed trying to sleep, if I have an idea at 3am – I have to get my laptop out."
"Sometimes you can appear erratic," he added. "Often, your ideas are cloudy and it's difficult to articulate them in a linear way. But I'm lucky to have a business partner in Toks who's understanding of that."
Living with ADHD can be a challenge. But for many, they're turning their condition into an advantage – harnessing the ADHD traits of hyperactivity and impulsivity and transforming them into the entrepreneurial habits of a high work capacity and action-oriented risk-taking.
People with ADHD can often achieve a state of hyper-focus for an extended period of time, following their passion and interest far beyond the point where neurotypical people would get exhausted.
And while neurotypical people might spend hours agonising over the options and potential risks of their decisions, someone with ADHD can find it easier to take bold steps forward, taking decisive action that can reap huge rewards.
"ADHD is my superpower," said Michael. "I wouldn't be an entrepreneur without it. I've totally embraced it and I know my work patterns are different. Sometimes my best work will get done at night, and it helps having partners and colleagues who understand that."
For others, turning their ADHD into something positive is as simple as accepting it as a true part of who they are:
"I embraced my ADHD by committing to live my life by self-defined rules and standards," said Selecta Suave. "That's why I'm a DJ and a freelance creative. I believe that makes me special, and that I was made this way for a reason – so I started researching and investing in ways that would enable me to work around the challenges that ADHD presents."
"Everyone has a different makeup of inattentiveness and hyperactivity," said Toby Williams. "So I'd say the most important advice is being open and experimental when it comes to finding ways of supporting your daily needs."
"Be kinder to yourself every day," said Selecta Suave. "Living your life as a neurodivergent masquerading as a neurotypical person is unsustainable – and often leads to harsh self-criticism, as it did in my case.”
Mental health in already an issue that often gets overlooked. Especially so for men – and even more so for Black men.
And with ADHD being an underdiagnosed and widely misunderstood condition – with a lack of awareness that spreads across parents, teachers, and the people directly affected – Black men with ADHD can often be left struggling without the support they need.
So what does a future with a healthy attitude to Black men's mental health look like?
"I'd like to see more Black men making the effort to work on their mental health and improve it," said Selecta Suave. "I'd like to see more in-depth conversations around aspects of mental health (like neurodiversity) that are often overlooked in my demographic."As well as increasing awareness and action on an individual level, an improvement on a societal level is key:
"I'd like to see a change in racial bias of Black men and the interpretation of their behaviour," said Michael Chapman, who went on to discuss the tragic case of Mzee Mohammed, a Black teenager from Liverpool with autism and ADHD who died in police custody in 2016.
"He was experiencing a psychotic episode. And instead of trying to understand the context, his behaviour was misinterpreted as violence, which led to an aggressive police response and the death of a young man that needed help."
And finally – for the long-term wellbeing of future generations – we need to bring greater awareness and understanding of mental health into our schools and educational systems
"Teaching Black students from very early ages that there’s much more to them than societal and educational expectations of them is key -" said Assistant Headteacher Toby Williams. "I feel like that would lead to more empowered generations that are ready to run things!”
If you know someone who's living with ADHD – or you think you're seeing the signs – the best place to start is with a proper understanding of what's involved.
So to find out more about ADHD and how it affects people, you can visit the NHS ADHD site, or the Young Minds mental health charity.
Written by Michael Chapman
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