ADHD News & Research

Review: ADHD Stigma Is Prevalent Globally

A review of international studies has revealed generally negative attitudes toward individuals with ADHD.

April 2, 2021

Globally, negative attitudes toward individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) persist. A systematic review of community samples has revealed enduring beliefs that ADHD is over-diagnosed, that treatment with medication is not acceptable, and that those with ADHD are more likely to exhibit poor behavior. This research, published in the Journal of Attention Disorders1, is one of very few studies to chart broader community attitudes toward ADHD in recent years. Other studies have found that a majority of young people with ADHD reported that their diagnoses made them feel “different” or “exposed.”2

For this new systematic review, researchers screened 1,318 articles and reviewed 10 studies (published from January 2014 to February 2020) from Australia, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Korea, Indonesia, and the United States. Knowledge of ADHD and its symptoms varied considerably from region to region — with the lowest understanding of ADHD reported in Korea and Indonesia, and the highest understanding in the United States, then Finland and Germany, where adult ADHD was often attributed to biology but childhood ADHD was generally not.

Review of an American study found that a “biological explanation was also associated with having more confidence in medication treatment for ADHD, but less confidence in the efficacy of treatment via psychotherapy.” In the Australian study, more positive attitudes toward medication were associated with three things: knowing someone with ADHD, having a higher education, or being younger in age.

In addition to the generally negative attitudes toward both young people and adults with ADHD, the review revealed a general desire to maintain social distance from those displaying ADHD behaviors. These anti-social reactions were diminished among people who were provided a biological explanation of ADHD symptoms, and who believed that ADHD symptoms exist on a continuum. The impact of these attitudes was not examined in the current review, but researchers cautioned that “existing research has associated perceived negative public attitudes with a failure to engage with clinical care, as well as poorer functioning and self-worth for those with ADHD.”

Improving ADHD-related mental health literacy and correcting misconceptions about ADHD in the broader community could provide a way to improve attitudes toward individuals with ADHD.

View Article Sources

1 Bisset M, Winter L, Middeldorp CM, et al. Recent Attitudes toward ADHD in the Broader Community: A Systematic Review. Journal of Attention Disorders. March 2021. doi:10.1177/10870547211003671

2 Lebowitz, M. S. (2016). Stigmatization of ADHD: A developmental review. Journal of Attention Disorders, 20(3), 199–205.