Dealing with the Stigma of Adult ADHD

Health Writer

Cindy sat down and joined her coworkers during the morning coffee break. Dan, one of the rather loud and opinionated coworkers also joined the table. This morning Dan was talking about ADHD. "It's ridiculous," he said, "ADHD is nothing more than an excuse." Dan continued to talk about how he thought ADHD was nothing but a farce. "Everyone has trouble concentrating sometimes, but it certainly isn't a disease. Parents are just too lazy to bother disciplining their kids today. It is easier to give them a pill. All we are doing is medicating childhood."

Cindy kept her mouth shut. Last year, her eight year old son was diagnosed with ADHD and he now takes medication every morning. The interesting thing about the process though, was that while her son was being diagnosed, Cindy realized that she also had ADHD and has since been diagnosed. She hadn't yet told anyone at work because she was worried about their reaction. And as she listened to Dan, she thought she had made the right choice.

ADHD, despite all of the research, is still misunderstood and the myths surrounding it still exist. One of the most common misconceptions about adult ADHD is that it is used as an excuse for your failures or to avoid doing things you find unpleasant. Another is that medications for ADHD are over-prescribed and are being used to manage normal behaviors. Some people believe that adults use a diagnosis of ADHD simply to have access to the medication. There is also a misconception that those with ADHD are simply incapable, stupid or have a tendency toward violence.

All of these stigmas lead to a complete lack of understanding and sometimes discrimination in the workplace. Adults with ADHD don't just need to deal with the daily symptoms, they must also deal with attitudes such as the one expressed by Cindy's coworker. Because of the lack of understanding, many adults, unfortunately, never seek treatment. According to some estimates, only 15 percent of those with adult ADHD are aware they have the disorder, leaving many adults undiagnosed and untreated [Reinberg, Healthday, Sept 9]. Those who never receive a diagnosis might spend their lives wondering why they can't "get it together" or end up believing they really are worthless and lazy. The stigma that ADHD isn't a legitimate diagnosis contributes to the large number of people who don't seek treatment.

Fighting the Stigma

If you, or someone you love, has ADHD, there are ways you can help fight the misconceptions and stigma that surrounds ADHD:

Learn about ADHD__. Read books, articles and websites to find out all you can about ADHD. Understand how it impacts your life, both good and bad. Have some preprinted information or websites available to give to other people who want to know more.

Join an organization. It is hard to fight a long-standing stigma by yourself. That's where advocacy organizations come in. Consider joining CHADD or ADDA. Both of these organizations work to increase awareness, reduce stigma and prevent discrimination.

Use your voice. When people around you make uninformed comments about ADHD, speak up and correct them. Provide the correct information. If you hear people making jokes about those with ADHD, speak up. By sharing your knowledge and letting others know you are not going to accept negative or misinformed comments without a challenge you can prevent others from feeling the hurt of misguided comments.

Decide if you want to share your diagnosis at your workplace__. While this can be a scary idea, especially if you have heard negative comments, speaking out and sharing your diagnosis is one way of helping to reduce the stigma surrounding the disorder. Weigh your decision carefully before you disclose your diagnosis and be sure it is not going to impact your life in negative ways, and, if it is, that you are prepared to deal with the fallout. Many people, however, find that once they do disclose their diagnosis they receive support, not only from management but from other coworkers who also have ADHD or who have family members or close friends who have been diagnosed.


"Measurement of Stigmatization Toward Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," 2012, Dec. 19, Anselm Fuermaier et al, PLOS One

"Stigma in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," 2012, Sept, Anna Mueller et al, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder