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In a world that’s meant to be more inclusive, why are ADHD diagnoses still so inaccessible?

With ADHD usually being associated with hyperactive, “naughty” boys at school, the quiet girl with the book wasn’t exactly an ideal candidate.

I was never hugely hyperactive and nothing much has changed now (I am writing this article from my bed), but things started to click for me this summer when I watched a video about ADHD and lateness. Being late has always been a problem for me – it doesn’t matter if I’m meeting someone waiting outside my house – I will always find a way to be late.

This video, which I ironically watched while procrastinating on my way to meet my friend, talked about how people with ADHD struggle to put themselves ‘outside’ of time because they were so absorbed in whatever they were doing in that present moment. This makes them huge procrastinators who continue to hyperfocus and get completely engrossed in something on your phone or even a simple task like choosing what outfit you’re going to wear.

Being completely and utterly absorbed in something can be a weird feeling. It really feels like no time is passing at all, but then you blink and suddenly it’s been half an hour.

It didn’t occur to me that there could be an impairment in the prioritising and planning area of my brain until I saw that video. It was only then that everything else started to click. For example, when I speak, I talk about two times as fast as most people and my brain flits between three or four topics and goes down several winding avenues in the course of a single conversation.

No matter how hard I planned and prioritised, I would always end up doing my freelance copywriting assignments just minutes before the deadline.

 I thought all of this was normal, or down to my autism, OCD or anti-depressants, but like many people with adult ADHD, it seems like my symptoms have become more pronounced in adulthood due to the fact that they haven’t been treated or diagnosed at a younger age. Although I am doing a Master’s now, I could feel my focus and procrastination getting worse. I knew that something needed to be done.

However, when it came down to getting an official assessment, I realised that the demand for adult ADHD diagnoses was higher than I could have ever anticipated. When I called my local NHS ADHD clinic to ask about the wait times, I was told that it could take up to two years before I could get a proper assessment. And the worst part is, this is a problem that is happening up and down the country.

A recent Freedom of Information request by the BBC to NHS trusts revealed that at least 21,000 adults were currently waiting for ADHD services, with South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust revealing that one man seeking an ADHD diagnosis had waited 1,842 days – over five years – before having his assessment.

With ambulances lining up outside London hospitals at the moment, it is easy to blame the pandemic for the NHS’s predicament. However, research by the ADHD foundation revealed that less than one third of responding clinical commissioning groups (30.5% or 53 out of 174) were able to provide a precise number or approximation of the number of adults they commissioned ADHD-related services for in 2017-18.

This suggests that there is an institutional problem when it comes to diagnosing people with ADHD, and it isn’t just chronic underfunding – there is also an evident lack of interest by clinical commissioning groups to take the diagnoses of adult ADHD seriously.

If I want to perform my best at my Master’s and get help for these symptoms that are impacting my day-to-day life, the only remaining option for me is to get diagnosed privately. On average, the assessment for ADHD alone is around £500, and the cheapest I could find is £360.

This might be a viable option for people in full-time employment with health insurance, but as a full-time postgraduate student who is struggling to make ends meet as it, I simply cannot afford to spend that kind of money on a diagnosis, no matter how much it might help me.

After all, what’s the point in getting a diagnosis five years down the line? What good will that do in the here and now?

Clearly, the health system is broken. The 21,000 people seeking a diagnosis can’t carry on like this. We need change. And fast.


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