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Hailey Malik on Health Literacy: ADHD

This was Hailey's depiction of the description of ADHD that she had read.
Original Artwork by Hailey Malik (author)


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, is the result of a lack of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, and is highly stigmatized among children, often because their closest contacts (i.e. teacher, parents, friends) are unfamiliar with the condition and how to respond it effectively.

The Biology of ADHD

ADHD is a mental disorder that primarily affects children and teenagers’ brain function, which hinders their brain development, mood, and ability to perform well in school, at work, or at home. Adults are not exempt from ADHD, but it usually targets young, developing brains. This causes the frontal lobe, which is responsible for organization, planning, attention span, and decision making, to mature much later than the average person. Here is the science behind it: “The inferior frontal gyrus is divided into three parts – the orbital part, the triangular part, and the opercular part. The frontal lobe contains most of the dopamine neurons in the cerebral cortex,” (Wikipedia). This “section,” if you will, of the brain is necessary to the production of norepinephrine. Think of this neurotransmitter as a bus system: when there are plenty of busses, the passengers can move quickly and efficiently to their destination. When there is a lack of buses, there is often a long waiting time, angry passengers, and hurried busses–this can cause chaos in the community. Similarly, when there is a lack of norepinephrine, there is chaos in the brain, which manifests itself as ADHD. Although ADHD cannot be prevented or cured, it can be treated with medication. It is also best to notice the symptoms at a young age so that they are not exacerbated. For example, my fourteen-year-old brother was diagnosed with ADHD in fourth grade and now takes Cotempla to keep his symptoms at bay. Although there is no quick fix for this shockingly common disorder, it can be worked through, and with the increase of health literacy, those with ADHD will be better off.

The Stigmatization of ADHD

Stigmatization of ADHD is concentrated within children and young adults. According to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, or NCBI for short, the most prevalent factors contributing to the stigmatization are: “public’s uncertainty concerning the reliability/validity of an ADHD diagnosis… public’s perceived dangerousness of individuals with ADHD, socio-demographic factors as age, gender, and ethnicity… ADHD treatment, for example public’s skepticism toward ADHD medication and disclosure of diagnostic status as well as medication status of the individual with ADHD,” (Mueller, A. K., Fuermaier, A. B. M., Koerts, J. and Tucha, L.) The public’s lack of trust in medical professionals, credible solutions, and the ADHD patients themselves put children and teenagers with the condition at more of a disadvantage. For example, “taking medication to improve ADHD symptoms might carry the risk to induce feelings of being different from peers. As revealed by Clarke (1997), ADHD-diagnosed children expressed stigmatizing beliefs… that clearly contributed to discomfort and dysfunctional self-perceptions (low self-esteem).” Because of the stigmatism surrounding ADHD medication, children are more reluctant to take their medication, which could potentially affect their social behaviors, performance in school, and emotional and mental health. Even those diagnosed with a small dosage feel ashamed of their prescription and refuse to accept the help. For example, in an interview with my boyfriend, Cameron LeBlanc, he expressed feelings of defeat no matter if he takes his medication or not. He says, “I cannot stay focused on one subject at a time. My ADHD also gets to the point where if I start something I have to finish it before I leave it. It gives me mood swings sometimes… I feel like people will think I am not smart because of my condition.” He was also reluctant to tell me about his condition at first out of fear of being judged by my family and me. However, if ADHD and access to readable, understandable sources provide information to parents, patients, and friends, this fear of judgement could be eliminated. The average child suffering from ADHD already has a lot on their mind (literally) so they do not need to add one more stressing factor to their mental health. Increased health literacy could help reduce the stigma surrounding ADHD and make those affected by it feel accepted and comfortable in their own skin. Here are a few ways you can help the health literacy and science communication movement:

  1. As Harrison and Cameron put it, “Put yourself in [their] shoes… Just love [those suffering with ADHD] the same that [you] would love everyone else.”

  2. Educate yourself and others! Here is an easy-to-read source:,at%20home%2C%20and%20in%20friendships.

  3. If you are suffering from ADHD and have nowhere else to turn, join a support group! Here’s a great one:

  4. If you know a loved one who suffers from ADHD, or if you feel led, donate to organizations that support patients:

  5. Never stop learning and spreading useful information to anyone and everyone! :)


Works Cited

ADHD | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

ADHD Neuroscience 101. (2006). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

ADHD & the Brain. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Frontal lobe. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from

Mueller, A., Fuermaier, A., Koerts, J., & Tucha, L. (2012). Stigma in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD

Attention Deficit And Hyperactivity Disorders, 4(3), 101-114. doi: 10.1007/s12402-012-0085-3

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