As you’re no doubt aware, we live in a time of easy access to ADHD treatment, where everyone with the disorder gets diagnosed and lives happily ever after.
Just kidding. While ADHD awareness has improved, many adults with ADHD still struggle to get their symptoms addressed, if they realize that they have symptoms of a mental health condition at all.
Recently, a group of researchers interviewed 10 specialists who work with adults with ADHD, looking to find out more about the barriers that people with ADHD face. While the survey focused on specialists in South Africa, it raised points that will sound familiar to ADHDers and mental health professionals around the world.
In the ten interviews, the researchers found four themes that ADHD specialists repeatedly brought up as far as obstacles that people with ADHD face. These were:
- Recognizing the disorder: There’s still a lot of work to be done increasing awareness of what ADHD is, even among health care providers. The specialists surveyed reported that many health professionals receive no training in ADHD. One specialist explained that “there is always lots of convincing the patient, and you have to convince everyone else: the funders, the colleagues, the general practitioners. There is a lot of resistance to the diagnosis.”
- Getting a diagnosis: Whether someone with ADHD receives a diagnosis is partly the luck of the draw because it requires having a doctor who can spot the symptoms and untangle them from symptoms of other disorders. Furthermore, many people with ADHD don’t go to see a mental health professional in the first place because they aren’t aware they have symptoms of a mental health condition. According to a specialist interviewed in the study, adults are often skeptical of a possible ADHD diagnosis: “I think that the adults often would come to me, and they would be reluctant to disclose some of their symptoms because they don’t know whether it is really an illness, and they are not always happy to disclose to the workplace or other people that they indeed have adult ADHD.”
- Getting treatment: Congratulations, you’ve got your diagnosis. Now the question is whether you’ll be able to get treatment. Specialists in the survey generally agreed that while the most effective ADHD treatment was a combination of therapy and medication, many people diagnosed with ADHD had access to neither of those. They reported that in South Africa, the obstacles in navigating the health care system are compounded by medical insurance plans that fail to recognize the existence of adult ADHD.
- A life of ongoing setbacks: The specialists in the survey highlighted the stark cost that people with ADHD pay for a lack of access to diagnosis and treatment – what the authors of the study called “a life of perpetual failure.” As one of the specialists put it: “If you look back into their life, then you can see the chequered work record, relationship failures, the substance abuse, the disruption in their life, the poor financial management over time and the co-morbidities that interfere over time. That is an enormous cost for that person and for their families.”
The text for the full paper is available here. It makes for discouraging reading, but for people with ADHD, it’s also a good reminder that the obstacles they face in getting access to treatment are real and that they are not alone.
As we kick off ADHD awareness month, it also highlights all the room for progress we have in spreading ADHD awareness, including among health professionals.
Image: Flickr/Glen Scott