Stigma around ADHD persists, which can lead to feelings of shame and stop someone from seeking treatment.

If you or someone you know lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may have encountered ADHD stigma.

It can feel discouraging to work so hard to manage your symptoms, only to have your efforts undermined by people’s misconceptions.

If you’re the parent of a child living with ADHD, you may have felt judged by others, as if the situation is somehow your fault.

Education and advocacy are important tools in reducing ADHD stigma.

Stigma is a negative bias, often based on a stereotype or incorrect information. Although ADHD awareness is increasing, stigma about the condition still exists.

Stigma 1: ADHD isn’t a real condition

The idea that ADHD isn’t real is a stigma that persists despite medical evidence to the contrary.

A 2016 study identified structural differences in the brains of people living with ADHD in areas responsible for:

  • decision making
  • cognitive control
  • motivation
  • motor function

A 2017 study showed that brain differences are enough to identify ADHD subtypes in children.

Despite this, you may have heard comments such as “there never used to be this much ADHD” or “they just invented it to sell drugs.”

These comments can be difficult to hear when you’re impacted enough by symptoms to consider seeking treatment.

If they can’t see physical evidence such as a cast or crutches, it can be hard for some people to believe that mental health conditions such as ADHD exist.

Stigma 2: People with ADHD just need to try harder

ADHD is a condition involving differences in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. It’s not the result of a lack of effort.

People who haven’t experienced ADHD’s effects don’t know how it feels to be overwhelmed by a task before starting. Even well-intentioned parents can lose sight of this when they’ve seen their child with ADHD focus intently on a preferred activity.

The issue isn’t a lack of focus and attention. It’s the ability to control it in a way that aligns with your goals, such as submitting a homework assignment or company proposal before the due date.

“Trying harder” doesn’t compensate for brain structure and neurotransmitter differences.

Stigma 3: Kids with ADHD need better parenting

If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, you’ve likely learned how to manage the daily impacts of your child’s symptoms.

It can be exhausting, relentless, and isolating — but it’s not your fault.

You’re not alone. ADHD is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting children, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 6.1 million (9.4%) children live with ADHD.

Finding the right support and management strategies can help make life easier for you and your child.

Stigma 4: Medication is an easy way out

Medication compensates for neurotransmitter imbalances in ADHD the way that glasses can correct vision or antihistamines can relieve allergy symptoms.

Taking away medication can interfere with a person’s ability to function up to their potential and create educational, occupational, and social challenges.

Determining whether medication is right for you and your child will depend on your needs.

Stigma can create a feeling of shame, sometimes preventing someone with ADHD from getting treatment.

Untreated ADHD can lead to adverse outcomes, some of which include:

Medication stigma can make a person unwilling to try treatment, delaying symptom management.

ADHD stigma can be stressful for parents and adults living with ADHD. It can cause challenges in social, occupational, and academic settings.

Stigma can also weaken your self-esteem if you internalize negative stereotypes about ADHD.

In a 2018 study of adults living with ADHD, participants discussed experiencing effects from:

  • internalized stigma
  • perceived public stigma
  • anticipated discrimination

A 2013 study found that ADHD can encourage negative attitudes, which people of all ages encounter.

For example, children living with ADHD experience social separation, which can happen as quickly as 30 minutes after they meet other people, according to a 2020 study.

Advocacy and information help reduce ADHD stigma.

A 2016 study examining the stigma of mental health conditions among college students suggests that contact and education can impact:

  • personal stigma
  • attitudes about treatment
  • intentions to seek formal treatment
  • perceptions about empowerment
  • discrimination

Contact involves hearing directly from people with ADHD to learn more about their experiences. Education involves learning more about ADHD and its effects.

ADHD stigma often stems from misinformation and lack of knowledge. Stigmas can be harmful and cause shame, leading to a lack of treatment.

Educating people about ADHD is an effective way to reduce stigma. You can share your personal stories about what living with ADHD looks like so that people have a better grasp of your experience.

It can also help to tell people more about the underlying medical aspects of the condition and the types of symptoms that result.