Breaking the Silence I Psych Central

Stigma around ADHD persists, which can lead to feelings of shame and prevent a person from seeking help.

If you or someone you know is living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may have encountered an ADHD stigma.

It can be disheartening to work so hard to manage your symptoms, only to let your efforts be undermined by people’s misconceptions.

If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, you may have judged yourself by others, as if the situation was somehow your fault.

Education and advocacy are important tools in reducing ADHD stigma.

Stigma is a negative bias, often based on a stereotype or misinformation. Although ADHD awareness is increasing, stigma about the condition still exists.

Stigma 1: ADHD is not a real condition

The idea that ADHD isn’t real is a stigma that persists despite medical evidence to the contrary.

A 2016 study identified structural differences in the brains of people with ADHD in areas responsible for:

  • decision
  • cognitive control
  • motivation
  • engine function

A 2017 study showed that brain differences are enough to identify ADHD subtypes in children.

Despite this, you may have heard comments like “there was never so much ADHD” or “they just invented it to sell drugs.”

These comments can be difficult to hear if you are experiencing symptoms enough to consider seeking treatment.

If they can’t see physical evidence, such as a cast or crutches, it can be hard for some people to believe that mental illnesses like ADHD exist.

Stigma 2: People with ADHD just have to try harder

ADHD is a condition involving differences in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. It is not the result of a lack of effort.

People who have not experienced the effects of ADHD do not know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by a task before they begin. Even well-meaning parents can lose sight of this if they have seen their child with ADHD focus on a favorite activity.

The problem is not a lack of focus and attention. It’s the ability to manage it in a way that aligns with your goals, such as submitting a homework assignment or business proposal before its due date.

“Trying harder” does not compensate for differences in brain structure and neurotransmitters.

Stigma 3: Children with ADHD need better parenting

If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, you’ve probably learned how to manage the day-to-day consequences of your child’s symptoms.

It can be exhausting, unforgiving and isolating – but it’s not your fault.

You are not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, ADHD is one of the most common mental illnesses in children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 6.1 million (9.4%) children are living with ADHD.

Finding the right support and management strategies can make life easier for you and your child.

Stigma 4: Medication is an easy way out

Medication compensates for the neurotransmitter imbalances in ADHD like glasses can correct vision or antihistamines can relieve allergy symptoms.

Taking medication away can hinder a person’s ability to function optimally and create educational, occupational, and social challenges.

Whether medication is right for you and your child depends on your needs.

Stigma can cause a feeling of shame, which sometimes prevents someone with ADHD from receiving treatment.

Untreated ADHD can lead to adverse effects, including:

Medication stigma can make a person unwilling to try a treatment, delaying symptom control.

ADHD stigma can be stressful for parents and adults living with ADHD. It can create challenges in social, occupational and academic settings.

Stigma can also weaken your self-esteem if you internalize negative stereotypes about ADHD.

In a 2018 study of adults with ADHD, participants discussed experiencing effects of:

  • internalized stigma
  • perceived public stigma
  • expected discrimination

A 2013 study found that ADHD can encourage negative attitudes, which people of all ages encounter.

For example, children with ADHD experience social separation, which can happen within 30 minutes of meeting other people, according to a 2020 study.

Advocacy and information help reduce the ADHD stigma.

A 2016 study on the stigma of mental illness among college students suggests that contact and education may affect:

  • personal stigma
  • views on treatment
  • intentions to seek formal treatment
  • perceptions about empowerment
  • discrimination

Contact means hearing directly from people with ADHD to learn more about their experiences. Education involves learning more about ADHD and its effects.

ADHD stigma often stems from misinformation and lack of knowledge. Stigmas can be harmful and cause embarrassment, leading to a lack of treatment.

Educating people about ADHD is an effective way to reduce stigma. You can share your personal stories of what life with ADHD is like so people can better understand your experience.

It can also help to educate people about the underlying medical aspects of the condition and the types of symptoms that result.

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