By Luna Greenstein
Sometimes it can be a challenge to find the silver lining—especially when it comes to mental health. When you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s only natural to view them in a negative light. But that’s not always the only available perspective.
According to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) specialist Dr. Ned Hallowell, “If you look at the classic triad of symptoms that define ADHD in the medical model—distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity—you can take each one of those and turn it on its head.”
Distractibility is Curiosity
When a person with ADHD sees or hears something in their surroundings, their attention is compromised because they need to know what is happening.
This curiosity could—and possibly should—be seen as a positive trait. Curiosity is often equated with having a hungry mind and seeking out new knowledge and experiences. In addition, a person’s curiosity quotient is one of the main psychological qualities that enhance the ability to manage complex or difficult situations.
Impulsivity is Creativity
“The flip side of impulsivity is creativity. You don’t plan to have a creative thought. Creative ideas are impulsive, spontaneous and undisciplined. Without impulsivity, there’s no creativity,” says Dr. Hallowell.
He explains that the hallmark of ADHD is disinhibition. Or in other words, people with ADHD can’t fully control their thoughts. This lack of control allows for new and creative ideas to populate in their minds in a way other people don’t experience: “That’s the ADHD mind—constantly in motion, constantly going to new places, sometimes dangerous, sometimes chaotic and sometimes really quite wonderful.”
It is due to disinhibition that those with ADHD can see things from a unique perspective, which is why they are often excellent entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.
Hyperactivity is Energy
If a person with ADHD is able to harness their hyperactivity, they can actually use it to their benefit. Most people would love to have more energy to put towards daily tasks, so the key for a person living with ADHD is to use their hyperactivity towards certain activities and not others.
It is a misconception that people with ADHD have difficulty focusing in any context—when they are focusing on something, they often achieve what is called “hyper-focus,” where they are so focused that the world around them falls to oblivion. Dr. Hallowell comments that while a person is in a period of hyper-focus “a building could be burning down, and they’ll stay focused.”
While putting a positive spin on mental illnesses can seem like an insurmountable challenge, it is possible. ADHD is more than not being able to focus or sit still—it’s having a power house brain that can be difficult to control. As Dr. Hallowell says: “If you manage it right, it can be a tremendous asset. It’s a condition that goes one of two ways. That’s why it’s so important to get the right help.”
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
In a crisis,
Find Your Local NAMI