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  • Writer's picturePetra

Unmasking Stigma and Shame: A Candid Look at ADHD

Stigma and shame surrounding ADHD is common. Many of the adults I see for therapy harbour this shame. Many times it goes back to childhood and the messages they received from others about their performance in numerous life areas. Shame can morph into guilt and over-responsibility. In this blog post, I'll explore the roots of ADHD stigma, its consequences, and strategies for overcoming it. It's important to break the silence and start a conversation that can lead to understanding, acceptance, and empowerment.

Understanding ADHD Stigma

The stigma surrounding ADHD stems from various sources, including misinformation, lack of awareness, and negative portrayals in the media. This can lead to harmful stereotypes and assumptions, such as:

  • ADHD isn't a "real" disorder, but rather an excuse for poor behaviour or laziness.

  • People with ADHD are unintelligent or incapable of academic or professional success.

  • ADHD only affects children and is something that individuals "grow out of" as they mature.

  • Girls don't have ADHD

The Impact of Stigma and Shame

The stigma surrounding ADHD can have far-reaching consequences for those living with the condition. These may include:

  1. Internalised shame: Individuals with ADHD may internalise the negative stereotypes, leading to feelings of shame and self-blame. This can erode self-esteem, hinder self-acceptance, and create a sense of isolation.

  2. Reluctance to seek help: Fear of judgement or discrimination may prevent individuals with ADHD from seeking support, leading to unaddressed symptoms and potential long-term negative outcomes.

  3. Barriers to treatment and support: Stigma may discourage healthcare professionals, educators, and other support providers from acknowledging and addressing ADHD, resulting in inadequate or inappropriate care.

  4. Social consequences: Misconceptions about ADHD can lead to social isolation, strained relationships, and difficulty forming new connections, as individuals with ADHD may be unfairly labelled or misunderstood by others.

Overcoming Stigma and Shame

To dismantle the stigma and shame associated with ADHD, we must first acknowledge the reality and prevalence of these experiences. I like to think of the process as knowledge, working toward acceptance, and if you can, and have the energy, advocate for yourself or others. Not everyone gets to the advocate stage. Heck, getting to acceptance can be hard enough. But reducing self-derogatory thinking and beliefs is a great first start. Here are some strategies for challenging stigma and fostering self-compassion:

  1. Educate yourself and others: Increasing awareness and understanding of ADHD is essential for reducing stigma. Share accurate information about the condition, its causes, and its manifestations with friends, family, and colleagues. Knowledge is power.

  2. Challenge stereotypes: When confronted with negative stereotypes or assumptions, speak up and offer an alternative perspective. Encourage open dialogue and strive to dispel misconceptions.

  3. Seek support: Connect with others who share your experiences, either through support groups, online forums, or therapy. Surrounding yourself with understanding individuals can help to combat feelings of isolation and shame.

  4. Practice self-compassion: Remind yourself that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, not a personal failing. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, recognising that everyone has unique strengths and challenges. Imagine the advice you would give to a good friend with ADHD and try to be at least as kind to yourself.

  5. Advocate for change: Work towards creating inclusive environments that support individuals with ADHD. This may involve advocating for accommodations at work or university or raising awareness about the importance of mental health support.


While stigma and shame remain significant challenges for those living with ADHD, understanding and acceptance can help to pave the way for a brighter future. By educating ourselves and others, challenging stereotypes, seeking support, and practicing self-compassion, we can help to break down barriers for ourselves and for those with ADHD in the future.

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