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People with ADHD face stigma, barriers: Senate report

Many Australians living with ADHD want better support as they navigate stigma, inadequate or expensive treatment and diagnosis services, and other issues.

More than one million Australians live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but many are plagued by misdiagnosis, insufficient treatment options and stigma, leading to Senate committee calls for the government to do more. 

ADHD is a condition that can be diagnosed by observing patterns of inattention and hyperactivity.

It can impact all areas of a person's life such as their ability to balance responsibilities, time management skills and can cause tendencies to hyper-focus on specific tasks or areas of interest.

About one in every 20 Australians live with ADHD, although some can live undiagnosed when their symptoms are hidden by supportive environments.

But societal stigma and inadequate diagnosis or treatment can lead to relationship issues, incarceration, poor academic achievement, unemployment, teenage pregnancy and a host of other mental health issues for Australians with ADHD.

Chair of the Senate inquiry, Greens senator Janet Rice, said the current situation was "grossly insufficient".

Inside the classroom, students with ADHD are labelled "lazy" or "undisciplined" and do not receive appropriate support from teachers, and in the playground, these children face bullying and social exclusion. 

Similar issues extend into adulthood when those with ADHD enter the workforce, navigate mature relationships, or interact with the justice system. 

First Nations people, Australians from multicultural backgrounds, LGBTQI people and women experience even more barriers when it comes to assessing and managing ADHD.

Though more than a million Australians live with ADHD, diagnosis and treatment services are severely lacking.

There are few public services available and even less in rural, regional and remote parts of Australia.

Those lucky enough to find an appropriate clinic can face long wait times and high costs as many treatments are not covered by Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or the National Insurance Disability Scheme.

There is also no guarantee the treatments on offer will help those living with ADHD with clients citing a lack of reliable information about their diagnoses, overly bureaucratic processes, stigma and other issues.

After receiving more than 700 submissions from almost 80 witnesses who have experiences with ADHD, a Senate committee has made sweeping recommendations.

It recommends the government fund and co-design a national framework for ADHD in consultation with advocacy groups and those with lived experience, while investing more in non-profit organisations.

From there governments should review services like Medicare and pharmaceutical subsidies to improve treatment, diagnosis and support options while clarifying information about the eligibility of ADHD under the NDIS. 

To address stigma and ADHD accommodations, governments could consider setting standards for neurodiversity training at schools, institutional settings and workplaces.

Further research into ADHD would also improve support, help tackle stigma and investigate the impacts of ADHD in diverse communities while exploring the co-occurrence of ADHD with other conditions.

Greens health spokesman Jordon Steele-John called the report historic.

"For the first time, it indicates a willingness by our decision-makers to address the barriers to ADHD care in this country," he said.

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