These Calgarians say TikTok told them they had ADHD — turns out, they do

Ellyce Fulmore decided to seek an ADHD assessment after seeing relatable content on her TikTok's For You Page. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC - image credit)
Ellyce Fulmore decided to seek an ADHD assessment after seeing relatable content on her TikTok's For You Page. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC - image credit)

In March of 2020, a recently laid off Ellyce Fulmore found herself doing what a lot of people were doing — scrolling through TikTok — when she started to see a lot of content she unexpectedly related to.

"It was a lot of content about ADHD and it made me stop and think and start to connect a lot of pieces," she said.

"I had never thought that I could have ADHD just because my perception of it was kind of that stereotypical, like it's a young boy who can't sit still and is really loud in class. I just didn't understand how it showed up for women."

The more the 27-year-old saw this kind of content, the more she began to suspect she, too, might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

"I just started to have all these like aha moments, and even hearing people talk about the same kind of things I was struggling with: sleep issues, brain fog, daytime fatigue," she said.

"That prompted me to seek some answers. TikTok was really the catalyst."

Fulmore made an appointment with her family doctor and was ultimately assessed and then diagnosed with ADHD.

ADHD TikToks 'relatable'

Madi Wood says she was drawn to TikTok when she started to see content from creators sharing their experiences with mental health.

"There was a lot of really candid conversations that I felt didn't have a space elsewhere," she said.

"I found a space within TikTok that really catered to my interests and also my dispositions as somebody who lives with mental health challenges, and I just felt like it was a really safe space."

Soon, the 28-year-old began noticing more and more content about ADHD coming up on her For You Page (FYP).

"I started to learn more about myself and my habits. I started to identify them with some of the things people were saying on TikTok and I was like, 'Oh, that's relatable because that's how I operate,'" she said.

Wood says she also noticed a lot of conversations happening about mental health and ADHD.

"And how sometimes we think of them as being totally separate, but in a lot of ways, they're super related, especially for adult women, and kind of just led me down a rabbit hole."

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

She says her fiancé also started to learn a lot about ADHD on the app.

"My partner has pointed out a lot of things to me like, 'Hey, this is posted by a creator who talks a lot about ADHD, and you have a similar behaviour,'" she said.

"And I'm like, 'Oh, OK. So I didn't necessarily notice it, but you did.'"

Seeing the TikToks made Wood feel like she wasn't alone and gave her the courage to seek an assessment — which led to a diagnosis from her doctor.

"For me, it kind of filled in a gap and answered a lot of other questions I had about the way my brain worked," she said.

"I have been on a path of self-discovery, health discovery, if you will, for probably the last eight years, specifically as it relates to mood and mental health — and I always felt that there was something missing in both the diagnosis and the remedy."

Increasing awareness

The Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada, describes ADHD as a "neurodevelopmental disorder" that affects approximately five to nine per cent of children and three to five per cent of adults.

Local psychologists say that, over the past two years, they've seen a big increase in the number of young adults (18-35) who come to them requesting assessments — for ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — and citing social media like TikTok and Instagram as their primary source of information.

"It made them start to think about the symptoms that they're exhibiting and the need for an assessment, but it also made them feel comfortable coming in and having that conversation with a psychologist and seeking assessment," said registered psychologist Joyce Achtnig.

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

As the clinical director and owner of the Alberta Counselling Centre in Calgary, she oversees more than a dozen psychologists who have all seen a similar trend for about two years now.

"They had mentioned, too, that they felt that a lot of those adults who have come in probably wouldn't have it if it wouldn't have been for the information that they first encountered on social media."

'Either they have ADHD or they don't'

Achtnig said that sometimes the information someone arrives with is "inaccurate," but it's positive to see social media helping eliminate stigma.

"I think it does increase tolerance and awareness and make those individuals who see those symptoms in themselves feel comfortable coming to a professional and looking into a formal diagnosis," she said.

In her experience, Achtnig said this hasn't necessarily resulted in a marked increase in the number of people being diagnosed.

"Either they have ADHD or they don't. Either they meet the diagnostic criteria or they don't, and it's not a simple diagnosis," she said.

"The other thing is we get a lot of self-diagnosis. So people who've already diagnosed themselves based on what they've seen on social media, and so they will actually go around and tell their friends, 'I have ADHD,' and that's not helpful to them because that could be a complete misdiagnosis. So it's important to get a professional assessment done."

Achtnig said it's particularly important for post-secondary students to seek a formal assessment. It opens a lot of doors for them to access resources and grants should they be diagnosed.

'I found my community'

Nearly two years after being diagnosed, Fulmore says TikTok has helped her find a community and totally change her life.

"Three months after I got diagnosed, I started talking a lot about how it impacts my finances, which is my kind of niche," she said.

She now creates content for her more than 528,000 TikTok and 15,000 Instagram followers all about navigating money and finances as someone with ADHD, and runs a business offering similar coaching.

"That content just really resonated with a lot of people. I just don't think there's enough people talking about it. As soon as I started posting it, I just realized how many people were struggling with the exact same thing but felt like they were alone," she said.

"The comment section of all of my videos is usually, 'Oh my God, I thought I was the only one,' or 'I'm so glad other people are dealing with this.'"

Fulmore is now also seeking an assessment for ASD based on information she first started to see on social media.

Wood, who has shared her ADHD journey with her nearly 14,000 TikTok followers, says she started seeing Fulmore's content on ADHD and finances awhile back. It prompted her to reach out — bringing the community she'd found online to her real life in Calgary.

"I feel like I found a community of people who are like, 'yeah, we all have ADHD and we're all operating just fine and we found each other and we support each other and find unique ways to address problems that we all have," she said.

"It's been inherently positive."