Think twice about attention deficit disorder

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects one in 20 children and adolescents in Europe. A new expert's white paper on the disease should galvanise more research into the disorder that causes much more harm and needs more urgent treatment than people believe, says Dr Susan Young.

Dr Susan Young is Senior Lecturer in Forensic Clinical Psychology at King’s College, the University of London.

“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most neglected and misunderstood psychiatric conditions in Europe. In spite of international medical guidelines on the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, there remain many people affected by ADHD who do not receive appropriate diagnosis and support. Furthermore, unlike other neurodevelopmental disorders such as learning disability and autistic spectrum disorder, ADHD is not specified on national and EU political agendas. 

ADHD is a common clinical condition. In Europe, ADHD affects 1 in 20 children and adolescents, many of whom will experience symptoms that persist into adulthood. If untreated, people with ADHD often experience a poorer quality of life, including school problems, poor academic outcomes, difficulty finding and maintaining stable employment, low self-esteem and poor social functioning. There also appear to be broader societal problems associated with ADHD, for example we know from empirical research that many young people with ADHD engage in delinquent and antisocial behaviour; it is estimated that 25% of prisoners have ADHD.

It is becoming clearer that there are considerable costs associated with ADHD attributable to the patient and their family members, such as those relating to education, productivity losses and social services. However, we do not currently understand the full scale of the issue, due to limited research in this area. There is therefore an urgent need for research to accurately quantify the problem, in order to assess and consequently address the real cost burden of ADHD to society.

Last November a European expert roundtable on ADHD took place, with the participation of clinicians, patient advocacy groups and representatives from the education and criminal justice systems. The roundtable addressed specific issues and challenges around the management of ADHD and provided a forum for the discussion of policy recommendations. The outcomes have been developed into an Expert White Paper, ‘ADHD: Making the Invisible Visible’ including policy solutions to address the societal impact, costs and long-term outcomes, in support of affected individuals.

Our recommendations for increasing informed awareness of all aspects of ADHD in schools, the workplace, the criminal justice system and broader society will help to alleviate some of the burden for people with ADHD. The goal is for ADHD to be considered a priority condition, alongside those such as dyslexia and autism, so that patients can receive the adequate support they need. In many cases, accurate diagnosis and effective management can improve long-term outcomes, especially self-esteem and academic achievement.

The White Paper sets out a framework for action with five clear, workable recommendations to help address the societal impact, costs and long-term outcomes for individuals with ADHD:

  •  Increase informed awareness of ADHD
  •  Improve access to early and accurate diagnosis of ADHD, especially via the introduction of early identification and intervention programmes in different policy areas (i.e., education, mental health-related services, criminal justice services and the workplace)
  • Improve access to ADHD treatment and develop a multidisciplinary patient-centred approach to ADHD care and support
  • Involve and support patient organisations
  • Encourage a patient-centred research agenda on ADHD, through more quantitative and qualitative research and through more involvement of allied stakeholders in developing priorities for future research. 

These concrete, expert-informed recommendations provide policy makers with a chance to improve the lives of those affected by ADHD and reduce the cost on national welfare systems across Europe. By working together we can make a real difference so that people with ADHD have the opportunity to lead fulfilled and successful lives.”

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