“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

–Albert Einstein

The Mayo Clinic defines stigma as a negative attitude toward someone–based on prejudice and misinformation–because he or she has “a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.”

If you have ADD or a related mental health condition, stigma and discrimination make life even more difficult. They can reduce your self-esteem and confidence, and discourage you from seeking treatment and support. In fact, the stigma attached to mental illness is “the main obstacle to the provision of care.”

ADD and Stigma 

Several studies have demonstrated the negative impact of stigma against ADD. Most recently, a review of several studies in 2013 found that people of all ages who have ADD symptoms experience “substantial stigmatization.” A review of studies in 2012 argued that this stigma may arise from “society’s tendency to accuse affected individuals of being unwilling to fit into the social system.” Researchers argued that misunderstandings about what causes ADD adds to the stigma, as some may think either the person with ADD or factors like bad parenting are to blame. Such stigmatization toward adults with ADD can “lead to discrimination, isolation and social rejection.”

Taking a stand against stigma

Coping with ADD Stigma

Thankfully, several studies also show that knowledge about ADD is a “mediating factor of stigmatization.” Specifically, information about what causes ADD and how ADD develops might reduce stigmatization. However, for many adults, this is easier said than done–adults with ADD may be particularly concerned about disclosing their ADD in the workplace for fear of stigma and discrimination (See: ADD in the Workplace)

When it comes to self-stigma, remembering these facts might help:

  • You’re not alone.  In 2012, more than 18 percent of all adults in the U.S.–43.7 million people–suffered from mental illness. Nearly half of adults in the U.S. will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. At least 2.2 million adults in the U.S. have ADD. And if they someone doesn’t suffer from a mental illness, someone they know and care about does.
  • Mental illness can affect anyone. People can develop mental illness regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, class or geographic location.
  • The world needs “all kinds of minds.” Temple Grandin said it best: the world needs all kinds of minds–including minds with ADD. See Grandin’s TED talk about why having so many different kinds of minds is so important.