About one in 30 Australians (or 3.4% of the population) have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Yet it remains a poorly understood and strongly stigmatized disorder.
Our new paper, who reviews research on community attitudes toward ADHD, found that misconceptions are common and affect the way people with ADHD are treated and view themselves.
Early recognition and treatment of ADHD dramatically improves the physical, mental and social outcomes of people with ADHD who, like everyone else, deserve to live full and fulfilling lives.
No, ADHD is not caused by too much television
Our research review found that many people mistakenly attribute ADHD symptoms – especially in children – to television or internet exposure, lack of parental affection, or coming from a broken home.
Read more: Research Research: Are Phone Obsessed Teens At Higher Risk For ADHD?
On the contrary, ADHD is a complex disorder that results from heredity, genetically determined differences in the way the brain develops.
People with ADHD have persistent patterns of hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive behavior that are out of step with the rest of their development. This can affect their ability to function and participate in activities at home, at school or at work, and in the community in general.
There is clear criteria for diagnosing ADHD, and a diagnosis should only be made by a specialist clinician following a comprehensive medical, developmental, and mental health examination.
No, ADHD is not systematically overdiagnosed
Our research review found that three-quarters of Australian study participants believe the disorder is overdiagnosed.
Based on international research, an estimate 850,000 Australians live with ADHD.
Yet current rates of diagnosis are well lower than that, especially in adults where less than one in ten has been diagnosed.
There is also widespread skepticism in the community about the use of medications to treat ADHD.
Medication is only one part of ADHD management which should always include educational, psychological and social support.
Read more: My child was diagnosed with ADHD. How to make a decision about medication and what are the side effects?
Although drug treatment rates have increased over the years, less than a third of Australian children with ADHD and less than one in ten adults with ADHD are currently receiving medication. This is much lower than expected, based on international guidelines.
How does this stigma feel
People with ADHD may struggle with everyday things that others find easy, with little understanding and recognition from others.
Typical examples include interfering in other people’s conversations and activities, leaving half-finished tasks, being forgetful, losing things, and not being able to follow instructions.
The response to these behaviors from family, teachers and friends is often negative, critical and relentless. They are constantly reminded of how much they struggle with the everyday things that most people find easy.
Our review revealed that young people are particularly affected by this judgment and this stigma. They know they are seen by others in a negative light due to their ADHD and they usually feel different, devalued, embarrassed, insecure, inadequate or incompetent.
Some respond to this constant criticism by engaging in disruptive and delinquent behavior, which of course only makes the situation worse.
Stigma can be a barrier to treatment
The perception and experience of stigma can influence a parent’s decision to get their child assessed for ADHD, and may leave parents underestimating the risks associated with untreated ADHD.
Confusion as to what parents should believe can also affect their ability to do things. decisions about diagnosis and treatment of their child. It is worrying because parents play an essential role by ensuring that health professionals correctly recognize and support their child’s health needs.
When diagnosis is delayed until adulthood, people with ADHD are four times more likely to die sooner than the rest of the population. This not only reflects the increased risk of suicide, but also an increase in serious accidents due to impulsive behavior.
Read more: ADHD in adults: what it’s like to live with the disease – and why many still struggle to get diagnosed
When we treat people with ADHD, many of these issues improve considerably. It’s not uncommon for someone who has recently started treatment to say, “Wow, I didn’t know life was meant to be like this”.
The treatment also improves the physical, mental and social well-being of children and adults with the mess.