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More Australians are being prescribed ADHD medication than ever, but myths about the neurological condition persist


More than 1.5 million Australians received medication to treat ADHD in the 2020-21 financial year, according to data from the Pharmaceutical Assistance Program.

While ADHD is recognized as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, it is not on the list of conditions supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

In an emotional address to the National Press Club in August, Australian broadcaster and entertainer Em Rusciano shared her experience of being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.

The 43-year-old said people with the disorder “require proper government recognition and support”.

Her comments brought attention to ADHD, reminding us that myths about the seriousness, diagnosis and treatment of the neurological condition still exist.

Maddie Derrick is a clinical psychologist, director of a specialist ADHD clinic in Hobart and lives with ADHD herself.

Maddie Derrick is not only an ADHD expert, but she also lives with the condition herself.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“There’s a human rights element to it,” she said.

“If you struggle with ADHD, you have the right to a proper evaluation, an understanding of your brain, and a better quality of life.”

Here, Dr. Derrick breaks down some of the myths and facts about ADHD:

Myth: ADHD must always be treated with medication

According to Dr. Derrick, people diagnosed with ADHD will not automatically get a script for Ritalin.

“That’s part of what skews the discussion about the rate of diagnosis, the assumption that when someone is diagnosed, they’re immediately on stimulants,” Dr. Derrick said.

“That’s just not true.”

Dr. Derrick said there are three main ways to treat ADHD: medication, both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic, and cognitive behavioral intervention, which is primarily administered by psychologists and other ADHD specialists.

Nonmedical intervention, she says, “is really about learning how to structure your environment to fit your strengths and challenges,” and it’s an option that many adults with ADHD choose.

When children are diagnosed with ADHD, it’s a slightly different story.

“Because kids don’t have a choice in their everyday environment—school, and our school environment can be incredibly difficult for people with ADHD—I would argue that medication may become more necessary,” Dr. Derrick said.

Myth – ADHD is overdiagnosed and overtreated

Over the past few years, there have been several studies that suggest the over-diagnosis and over-treatment of ADHD in Australia.

However, the increase in diagnoses is a reflection that doctors are better understanding and treating the condition, Dr. Derrick said.

“One recent study found evidence of overdiagnosis, but what they actually found was evidence that we can diagnose ADHD when it’s at a milder level,” she said.

A study published last year acknowledged that although the increased number of diagnoses was associated with the detection of milder cases, there was still a lack of evidence of the long-term effects of treatment.

However, Dr. Derrick said these cases deserve the same understanding as more severe examples.

“It’s still ADHD. It’s still aggravating for the person,” Dr. Derrick said.

“Just because it’s milder doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be diagnosed.”

Dr Derrick also said that many cases of ADHD – particularly in women – were previously misdiagnosed as anxiety or depression.

“The assumption is that these people come out of nowhere and have no prior diagnosis, but the fact is that many of them are already being treated for anxiety and depression, many are already on medication,” Dr. Derrick said.

“We’re really just getting it right now.”

Myth – ADHD only affects young boys


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