Unfortunately, ADHD stigma is relatively common, and it affects people of all ages. Although they aren't as rampant as they once were, negative stereotypes and myths about ADHD are still around. Those misunderstandings can create a number of challenges for people with the disorder, affecting everything from social relationships and career success to access to ADHD care.
What Is Stigma?
Stigma involves negative bias or a discriminatory attitude toward someone. It can take many forms, such as stereotyping, prejudiced attitudes, or outright discrimination. Stigma can affect the way a person is thought of and treated by other individuals and by institutions, such as schools or workplaces. Someone who is stigmatized may be belittled by others or given fewer opportunities, for example. Sometimes, the effects of stigma are obvious, but in other cases, it can be subtle and difficult to detect.
Sadly, stigma can even affect the way someone thinks about themselves. After all, if it feels like others see you as being deficient or less valuable, you may start to see yourself that way, too.
Stigma Around ADHD
Even though awareness around ADHD is increasing, many people with the condition face stigma in their everyday lives. Despite medical evidence showing actual structural differences in the brain for people with ADHD, some people don't really believe that the disorder is real. In these cases, people may see ADHD as a problem with poor parenting or a personal failing that indicates someone simply isn't trying hard enough. They might also consider taking ADHD medication to be “giving up” or taking the easy way out.
These stereotypes about ADHD aren't based in reality. However, that doesn't stop certain people from perceiving those with the disorder in a negative light and treating them differently as a result.
The effects of ADHD stigma are wide-ranging. It can create challenges in someone's personal life as well as their experience in school or at work. Just as troubling is the way in which ADHD stigma affects someone with the condition on a mental level. They can begin to self-stigmatize, which may erode their self-esteem over time and cause them to feel shame about their condition.
How Stigma Affects Access to ADHD Care
Another one of the adverse outcomes of ADHD stigma is the way in which it creates obstacles to important healthcare needs. ADHD is not curable, but it does improve greatly with the right care. But when someone feels shame about ADHD, they may be reluctant to seek help from a medical professional.
In adults, this can happen when they don't want to be seen as having something "wrong" with them. They might worry about others finding out they have ADHD, or they feel resistant to taking medication. For children, stigma from their own parents may get in the way of their healthcare needs. If the parents worry that a diagnosis or treatment will stigmatize their child, or if they have fears about stimulant medication for ADHD, they may put off making appointments or fail to bring it up with the child's pediatrician.
When someone with ADHD doesn't get the care they need, it can lead to a number of problems. A person with untreated ADHD may develop depression or anxiety or have issues with substance use. They can have relationship problems, job instability, and lower self-esteem. These are all serious outcomes, which is why it's so important to remove the barriers that stigma creates when it comes to accessing ADHD care.
Ways to Fight ADHD Stigma
ADHD stigma is real, and it's been shown time and time again to be harmful. So how can we fight back against that stigma and help people with ADHD get the care they need?
If you're someone with ADHD, try to educate those around you. Speaking directly with someone who has ADHD can help people see the condition in a new light. There are sure to be some who are still resistant to the truth even when you show them the facts. But for others, it's simply a lack of knowledge about the disorder which has informed their misconceptions about it. The combination of learning more about ADHD and knowing someone personally who has it can help to change their minds.
Another way to help decrease ADHD stigma is to get involved in advocacy. There are countless ways to advocate for people with ADHD, whether you're looking to get accommodations for children in local schools or trying to bring about policy changes on a national level.
Most importantly, however, don't let stigma stop you from getting the care you need. At Done, we know that seeking an ADHD diagnosis or treatment can be intimidating, especially if personal or cultural stigma has you concerned about the ripple effects in your daily life. Our telehealth services keep everything private, and you can talk about your concerns confidentially with our licensed clinicians. And although facing a diagnosis can be nerve wracking, you'll likely discover that finally understanding the reasons behind your symptoms and getting the medication to treat them is life-changing.
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