Stigmatizing experiences of parents of children with a new diagnosis of ADHD

Psychiatr Serv. 2010 Aug;61(8):811-6. doi: 10.1176/ps.2010.61.8.811.


Objective: The experiences of parents of a child who received an initial diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were examined to determine the ways in which they may have encountered stigmatizing situations.

Methods: Forty-eight parents of children aged six to 18 years were interviewed about their experiences leading up to their child's ADHD diagnosis, including their decisions to seek treatment. All interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using grounded theory methods. Codes were identified using a constant comparative approach, which led to theoretically defined thematic constructs of stigma.

Results: Stigmatizing experiences were noted by 77% of the sample. Nearly half (N=21, 44%) were concerned about how society would label their child, 40% (N=19) felt social isolation and rejection, and 21% (N=10) perceived health care professionals and school personnel as being dismissive of their concerns. Parents' own attitudes about ADHD treatment were shaped by their exposure to negative media (N=10, 21%), their mistrust of medical assessments (N=8, 17%), and the influence of general public views (N=3, 6%). These stigmatizing views were related to parental concerns about the impact that diagnosis and treatment would have on their child's self-esteem and opportunities for future success.

Conclusions: The range of ways in which parents in the study experienced stigma highlights the need for multiple perspectives for community outreach and public health programs that are aimed at addressing and eliminating mental health stigma. Even though stigma is a well-established barrier to mental health service use, the anticipated benefits of treatment may outweigh parents' experiences with stigma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Rejection, Psychology
  • Social Isolation / psychology
  • Social Perception
  • Stereotyping