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White Privilege and ADHD

From preferential treatment in applying for jobs, to greater socioeconomic power, to not having to worry about being brutally murdered by the police, there is a long list of unearned advantages that come with being white in the United States.

To some extent, it seems like the country is having a long overdue reckoning with the systematic discrimination that has a long history in the US and continues to perpetuate these inequalities.

Black lives matterRacial disparities exist in many different facets of everyday life, and it turns out that mental health diagnosis and treatment is no exception.

I’ve written before, in general terms, about the role that luck plays in ADHD outcomes. Given two people with the same ADHD symptoms, one of those people might experience a lucky alignment of external circumstances that gives them access to opportunities their symptoms might otherwise prevent them from having access to.

Maybe they stumble into the right psychiatrist’s office and get a correct diagnosis the first time around. Maybe they encounter a teacher who is able to inspire them and work with their learning style. Maybe, due to financial resources or a strong support network, they’re able to get a college degree despite their symptoms.

Or maybe, due to being born with a certain skin color in a society that confers different opportunities to people with different skin colors, they benefit from white privilege. When I talk about white privilege in the context of ADHD diagnosis and treatment, here are some of the things I’m talking about:

  • Black and Latino children and teenagers are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than white children and teenagers with the same level of symptoms. If they are diagnosed, they’re less likely to receive medication.
  • The employment gap between people with and without ADHD is disproportionately high for people of color. A 2013 study found that white adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD in childhood had an employment rate that was 9.5 percent points lower than white adults without such a diagnosis. For black adults and Latino adults, the gap was 14 and 17 percentage points respectively. In other words, while ADHDers of all races experience negative job market consequences, black and Latino ADHDers seem to experience those negative consequences disproportionately.
  • Where white students with “behavior problems” are diagnosed with ADHD and given support, black students tend to be kicked out of school or sent to prison.

In other words, if a white ADHDer is more likely to be diagnosed, more likely to receive medication, more likely to have their disruptive behaviors dealt with by mental health professionals rather than the criminal justice system, and ultimately less likely to end up unemployed on the basis of ADHD symptoms, it seems pretty apparent that racial disparities factor into how different people can experience different outcomes from the same ADHD symptoms. And I would guess that the studies I linked to above are only the tip of the iceberg.

That should be enough for all of us who care about ADHD awareness to reflect on the role that systemic racism plays in the outcomes associated with ADHD symptoms, and in our society more broadly. There are a variety of things we can all do to confront racism in our everyday lives, but the necessary first step is to acknowledge that the problem exists – including in the context of mental health treatment.

Image: Flickr/Taymaz Valley

White Privilege and ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). White Privilege and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Jun 2020
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