Updated: May 25
Brace yourself. ADHD stigma is real and shocking, as shown by recent robust science (reference 1 - see bottom of post for references). Across communities from various parts of the world, attitudes towards people with ADHD tend to be negative. Read on to discover what society really thinks about people with ADHD and what the three main complaints raised against us are.
The results of the research study are painful. But please don't despair, the post also covers how we can all contribute to tackling ADHD and general mental health stigma.
The importance of diagnosing adhd
The first stigmatizing attitude we're faced with claims that "ADHD is over-diagnosed" (ref 1), meaning the diagnosis is given to people who don't really have ADHD.
On the contrary, there is a general consensus among experts in the field that ADHD is under-diagnosed, especially in adults and especially in women. I will talk about how a timely and correct diagnosis can protect against poor outcomes in later blog posts.
ADHD is a rare case where meds truly work - the stigma against medication use is especially jarring
The next claim contributing to ADHD stigma is that "medication treatment of ADHD is not acceptable" (ref 1). This is in stark contrast to evidence-based guidelines. In fact, the use of stimulants to treat ADHD is a rare case where meds indisputably work.
Remember, this does not mean that stimulants work for everyone with ADHD (see my blog post about making sense of ADHD research), nor am I recommending their use (I am not a medical doctor).
Stimulants for ADHD show large effect sizes, meaning they significantly benefit most people that take them. This is not the case for many other medications in general medicine and psychiatry (see this excellent meta-analysis for examples - reference 2).
But have you ever heard of anyone being shamed for taking hypertension or cholesterol meds? The statistical significance of their effects is much poorer.
Do we have to conform, or do we get to be our best selves and thrive?
The third claim is that we with ADHD are "more likely to exhibit poor behavior" (ref 1). People also voiced the "desire for maintaining social distance from individuals with ADHD" (ref 1).
Many of us have bent ourselves into pretzels trying to pass as neurotypical, and most of us have failed at it. ADHD comes with unique gifts and strengths. But shame, being shamed, and trying to conform keep us from living our life to the fullest.
Help fight mental health stigma, one interaction at a time
So what do we do about all this ADHD stigma? The study authors write: "On a more positive note, there was general agreement across studies in the current review that knowledge, recognition of, and familiarity with ADHD tends to protect against negative attitudes"(ref 1).
The more of us who "out" ourselves as ADHD, the more we speak about our experience, the more we quote what science shows, the better our chances of making the world less shaming and more accepting of neurodiversity.
So that we can bring our unique gifts and talents to the table, no matter how our brains are wired.
1. Bisset M, Winter L, Middeldorp CM, et al. Recent Attitudes toward ADHD in the Broader Community: A Systematic Review. Journal of Attention Disorders. March 2021. doi:10.1177/10870547211003671 Link to systematic review
This study is a systematic review. That means it looked at all the studies done in this field. It included four studies from the US, two from Germany, and one each from Finland, Korea, Indonesia, and Australia.
2. Leucht S, Hierl S, Kissling W, Dold M, Davis JM. Putting the efficacy of psychiatric and general medicine medication into perspective: review of meta-analyses. Br J Psychiatry. 2012. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.096594 Link to meta-analysis
Excellent meta-analysis on the efficacy of various medications for physical and mental illness. A meta-analysis has a high "confidence factor".
In this short blog post about scientific research, you'll easily understand how to assess research studies.