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Correcting the Record: ADHD is No Laughing Matter

Mental Health Awareness Week kicked off last Monday and ran through the week until Sunday, May 10th.

This important initiative through the Canadian Mental Health Association encourages individuals to learn, talk about, reflect on, and engage others on issues related to mental health and mental illness.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is one of those illness that continues to be lost in a haze of social stigmas and lack of understanding.

Too often we hear a friend, relative, or co-worker joke about “having ADHD,” lending support to the argument that ADHD is simply the new fad diagnosis used to explain away the days where we find it difficult to concentrate. But for over a million Canadians who are directly affected by this illness, ADHD is no laughing matter.

It’s time ADHD is seen for what it really is: a complex, multifaceted, often life-long mental health disorder that significantly impacts people’s lives, the lives of those closest to them, and society as a whole.

Hence, here are some important things you need to know about ADHD:

ADHD, a medical neurobiological disorder, is a serious and wide-spread mental health issue impacting more than one million Canadians. As the most common childhood mental health condition worldwide, ADHD impacts one to two children in every Ontario classroom, and later on, four out of every 100 employees in the province.

ADHD increases the risk of suicidal ideation and behaviours, and commonly occurs alongside other mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Physicians treating patients with ADHD are aware that monitoring for these symptoms is critical to ensuring the safety of ADHD patients, and watch closely during screening and assessment processes.

Health Canada recently announced that clearer warnings about the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours will be included in the prescribing information for ADHD medications, while also underscoring that there is no proof that ADHD medications cause these symptoms, and that the benefits of taking ADHD medications continue to outweigh potential risks. This announcement does, however highlight the importance for those with ADHD to be aware and continue to have proper monitoring by their physicians.

A shocking 90 per cent of adults with ADHD remain untreated and those who suffer from the illness are more likely to be impacted by injury and motor vehicle accidents, substance abuse, or jail time. In children, ADHD significantly increases the risk of high school dropout.

Taking into account the direct health, education, and justice-related costs, the cost of illness of ADHD for Canadians is over $7 billion, exceeding the cost of major depressive disorders.

In most cases ADHD is not preventable, but when managed properly, those with ADHD can lead happy, successful, and fulfilling lives.

Effective management of ADHD requires multi-modal treatment, the first being patient, parent, and teacher education and awareness. Treatment options to ensure success with ADHD patients include a variety of psychosocial treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching, behaviour strategies, specialized tutoring, ADHD medication, regular follow-up visits with a trained medical practitioner, and special educational accommodations.

The more seriously we take ADHD the more likely it is we can help children have better outcomes and grow up to reach their full potential. It’s time to stop kidding around and start taking this critical mental health issue more seriously.

If you’re curious to find out more information on ADHD’s socioeconomic impacts, you can read CADDAC’s Policy Paper, “Paying Attention to the Cost of ADHD: The Price Paid by Canadian Families, Governments and Society” here.

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