Let me explain...
Many of you reading this are already aware of the misdiagnosis initiative, and know that many gifted children - and adults - are misdiagnosed as a result of their gifted traits. Asynchrony, hyperfocus, overthinking, social awkwardness, to name a few, may lead those lacking an understanding of giftedness to overpathologize and frame these traits as diagnostic of a mental health, developmental or behavioral problem. ADHD, OCD, and "on the spectrum" are some of the labels these children receive, when in fact, their behaviors may be manifestations of their giftedness.
But what about when the diagnoses are valid?
As a clinical psychologist, I have encountered situations where teens or adults have been misdiagnosed, and when problem behaviors resulted from social/emotional traits associated with giftedness, or the social ramifications of being gifted. I have also seen individuals who are gifted, but have co-occurring mental health concerns.
These diagnostic questions also arise in my work as a coach, where I consult with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Although coaching is quite different from psychotherapy, my perspective as a psychologist remains an integral part of what I do. I still think like a clinician and take a history and listen through the "ears" of a psychologist.
Over the years, I have noticed a trend where some gifted adults or parents of gifted children, well-versed in the gifted literature, assume that their troubles are exclusively due to giftedness. And while gifted intelligence and social/emotional issues can provoke their own set of unique troubles, sometimes... sometimes... the issue is a mental health problem.
Yet, some gifted adults and families understandably hope that giftedness is the culprit. They dismiss others' warnings and comments - or their own nagging doubts. Perhaps, they needed psychotherapy years ago, or their child is more distressed than they had imagined. It's just Dabrowski's overexcitabilities - not depression - right? He just overthinks everything - he'll get over the anxiety eventually - won't he? They had hoped the problems were less serious. After all, who wouldn't want this to be true?
Remaining attuned to your child's intellectual abilities, emotional and social functioning, and interpersonal needs is much easier said than done, of course. Children have different needs depending on their developmental phase, interests, abilities, family dynamics, and unique personality. As parents, we often are vulnerable to the opinions of others - family, friends, social media, self-help authors, pediatricians, teachers, spiritual leaders. You or your child may be mislabeled, misdiagnosed, or not appropriately identified as gifted. Your child's or your own giftedness may be pathologized, or conversely, used to explain away more serious levels of distress that warrant treatment.
Take it seriously
We need to remind ourselves that children's and adult's emotional struggles must be taken seriously. We don't want to "overpathologize" and ignore how giftedness contributes to social and emotional functioning, but symptoms of distress should not be dismissed as "just a part of being gifted" or "a phase" that will pass. Unlike what you may read in online forums or hear from well-meaning acquaintances, not every ADHD diagnosis springs from corrupt physicians in bed with "big pharma." Not every diagnosis of social anxiety disorder ignores the role of giftedness in your child's heightened sensitivities. Depression needs to be treated and not just dismissed as the existential angst so many gifted teens experience.
Get help when it's needed
Trust your instincts. Listen to your gut. If that nagging voice inside tells you that something more is going on, that you or your child are more distressed, or that additional support will help you navigate a difficult period in time, get some help. Gifted social/emotional traits may shape your child's or your own interests, sensitivities, passions, and quirks, but when these cross the line into distress and psychological symptoms, please seek the support of a licensed mental health professional.