ADHD stigma plagues half of young sufferers, research says

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Experts have issued a stark mental health warning for ADHD sufferers as a new report reveals long diagnosis delays and a lack of recognition from frontline staff. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Half of young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have had to deal with frontline professionals who refuse to acknowledge it as a “real condition”, including GPs and school staff, new research suggests.

Furthermore, many ADHD sufferers face waits of two years or more for a diagnosis, delaying their access to effective management strategies for the condition.

As a result, young people with ADHD are at “serious risk of social and mental health harm” because of what are described as “some of the longest and most complicated delays to diagnosis of any country in Europe”.

The stark warning has come from a group of ADHD experts in a report published on Friday (November 3) pulling together a range of research evidence on ADHD and the experiences of sufferers, both adults and children.

It is thought that ADHD is found in up to five per cent of children, which would equate to 300,000 cases – effectively one child in every classroom.

The report – A Lifetime Lost, or a Lifetime Saved – found that a third of ADHD adults and children had to visit their GP at least three times before being given a diagnosis, with 28 per cent having to wait two years or more. At the same time, 22 per cent “experienced doubt from their GPs about whether ADHD is a real condition”.

The report continued: “Additional survey results show that these dangerous misperceptions continue to run through the education system, where children and parents look to staff for guidance and support.”

The same research found that 51 per cent of adult and child ADHD sufferers experienced “a lack of recognition for ADHD as a real condition” from frontline professionals including GPs other specialists and school staff.

In education, the report’s research review suggests that:

  • Four in every 10 parents (38 per cent) were criticised by school teaching staff who blamed the condition on parenting skills.
  • Nearly one quarter (23 per cent) were specifically told by teaching staff that ADHD is over-diagnosed – despite recent research which found that more than half (54 per cent) of paediatricians and child and adolescent psychiatrists believe ADHD to be currently under-diagnosed in the UK.
  • Almost half (49 per cent) of those surveyed felt that they have received a below average or poor level of support from their school
  • Only eight per cent of those surveyed claim to have received an “excellent” level of support from school teachers and school nurses.

The research says that, if ignored, ADHD can lead to consequences including increased risk of anxiety and depression, self-harm and even suicide.

Other findings suggest that a third of young sufferers experience temporary exclusion from school while waiting to see a specialist.

Furthermore, up to 30 per cent of children with ADHD may have a separate mood disorder like depression or anxiety and are between three and six times more likely to have a reading disability.

Girls with ADHD, in particular, face higher rates of depression and anxiety, and up to half of girls with ADHD will attempt self-harm, the review adds.

The experts who have put together the report include Dr Tony Lloyd, chief executive of the ADHD Foundation, Dr Matthew McConkey, a consultant paediatrician, Poppy Ellis Logan, an ADHD activist and founder of #AttentionUK, and SEN and behaviour specialist Fin O’Regan.

In light of the review findings, they are now calling for a review of mental health policies for children with ADHD.

Dr Lloyd said: “Despite major efforts to improve the stigma around mental health across the UK and decades of scientific and clinical research around ADHD, we are continuing to fail thousands of children who have one of the most common mental health disorders.

“Ignoring ADHD is a potential time bomb for these children, placing them at risk of severe problems that may well burden them for their entire lives. We urgently need to look at policies around ADHD and ensure that it starts to be recognised as a vital part of mental health reform moving forward.”

Dr McConkey added: “ADHD remains chronically underdiagnosed and access to services and treatment in the UK is woefully inconsistent. Long-term solutions must be put in place by the NHS to ensure no child falls through the gaps – this includes improving the patient journey to diagnosis and challenging the stigma prevalent throughout the healthcare community.”

Ms Ellis Logan said: “Over the last 10 years, our own national health authorities (NICE) and international health authorities (WHO) are among many who have urged our leaders to acknowledge and apprehend the alarming levels of stigma and misunderstanding about ADHD in policy-makers and care providers across the UK in particular. In spite of this, our research suggests that those with ADHD are still facing alarming rates of disbelief and misunderstanding from the very people who are supposed to care for us.

"We hope that our report findings will provide more valuable insights into the issues faced by individuals with ADHD in the UK, and not only inspire change in the way the UK treats people with ADHD, but ensure that the change actually happens.”

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