29 Mar 2021

Adults with ADHD missing out on care: Clinician

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 29 March 2021

Around 6 percent of New Zealanders are living with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) yet many adults struggle to get diagnosis and treatment for the condition, says senior clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland.

Kathryn Ryan speaks with Dr Sutherland and Darrin Bull from the not-for-profit organisation ADHD NZ.

woman with head in hands

Photo: Anna Shvet / Pexels

ADHD is characterised by impulsivity, hyperactivity (which in adults usually manifests as inner restlessness) and inattention, Dr Sutherland says.

It has often attracted controversy, especially in relation to the overdiagnosis and overprescription of stimulant medication to children.

But the old-school view that ADHD is a childhood condition that ends with childhood is true for only about a third of people, he says. Another third of people have ongoing difficulties with daily life and a final third have severe challenges.

But for adults who aren't having extreme mental health difficulties, assessment and diagnosis aren't easy to come by.

Such people are often forced to pay thousands of dollars for assessment in the private sector, says Dr Sutherland.

Stimulant medications such as Ritalin help many people, but to get a prescription you need special authority from a psychiatrist.

ADHD has a genetic component and people often don't realise they're living with it until their child is diagnosed, says Darrin Bull.

Many others seek an ADHD diagnosis only after they've reached a personal crisis point at work or in their relationships, he says.

These people - who are often high on energy and creativity - are being done a disservice by the New Zealand health system, Bull says.

"These are lovely people, they're creative, they're energetic, and as a country, we're missing out.'