Opinion: You’re not stupid

How mental illnesses can impact your ability to learn


Imagine being in a room with 70 chihuahuas barking at 60 widescreen TVs blasting ‘Bad Romance’ and being told to concentrate on something menial and boring. That’s exactly how it feels to work under the stress of mental illness. As a collective, we have gotten so much better at recognizing and working to cure the effects of illnesses like anxiety, depression, and ADHD/ADD. But better doesn’t mean perfect. There are still many people who are ostracized for being stupid or slow or sensitive, but they’re not.

Let’s deconstruct this illness by illness.

ADHD/ADD is often dismissed as just being lazy, and even defined incorrectly as “the inability to focus.” That definition is missing a word, control. I’ve had times where I’ve been able to edit an entire video in a little less than an hour with no breaks, but as soon as I start on my math homework I would spend hours staring at the paper. Thankfully there have been accommodations made to such as extended time, which signals that we as a society have made better efforts to help more people become functional instead of leaving them to suffer.  

According to healthline.com “ADHD is not necessarily a deficit of attention, but rather a problem with regulating one’s attention span to desired tasks.”

It has never been about being lazy, but rather the inability to control one’s focus. This means that someone with ADHD/ADD  could be unable to focus on a simple math assignment, but could also hyperfocus on something that interests them. 

Anxiety and Depression, however, obviously don’t operate the same way. So why are they grouped with ADHD/ADD? Mainly because they both cause a deficit in attention. They are often overlooked as just mood disorders. Imagine trying to work on something when you are distracted by the crushing feeling of despair or a constant feeling of being on edge. It’s difficult. My personal experience with this has been harsh, as the motivation to do anything takes a nosedive whenever I’m depressed. It’s similar to anxiety in the sense that the persistent negative feeling is distracting. They are often comorbid as well, meaning they can be diagnosed at the same time.

But even when websites like CDC.gov are one click away, there are still people who are told to get over their “excuses”. So what do you do about them? The short answer is nothing. It’s not possible to forcefully change people. The best you can do is learn about yourself and your own strengths. Seek out the people who WILL make accommodations for you, and do your best to get help for your illness. In fact according to understood.org, “Colleges also don’t have to give a student the same types of academic supports that he had in high school. But if a student can provide evidence that he needs a specific accommodation, he’s eligible to get it in college.” 

This means that no matter what, colleges receiving federal funds must accommodate for mental illness. So make sure you advocate for yourself, and you should be fine.