August 27, 2021

Stigma: Public attitudes towards children and adults with ADHD

To gauge the extent of stigma towards persons with ADHD, a European research team hired a company specialized in market and social research to conduct a poll of some five thousand randomly selected Germans. Just over a thousand completed the interview, representing a response rate of only one in five. The team acknowledged, “Although non-responder bias has to be considered to be important, ethical considerations prohibited the collection of any detailed information on non-respondents.” The sample had slightly more women and elderly persons, and a higher average level of educational attainment relative to the German population as a whole. Sampling weights were used to compensate for these discrepancies.

The poll relied on computer-assisted telephone interviews. Interviews began with prerecorded vignettes of either a 12-year-old child or 35-year-oldadult exhibiting core symptoms of ADHD (such as “careless mistakes in schoolwork,” “does not follow through on instructions,” “easily distracted by extraneous stimuli”, “loses things”, “leaves his place in the classroom or when sitting at the dining table”). Half of those interviewed were presented with child vignettes, and half with adult vignettes. The gender of the person described varied randomly.

On a scale of one to five, respondents were asked to indicate levels of agreement with two statements: 1. ‘‘Basically, we are all sometimes like this person. It’s just a question of how pronounced this state is.’’ 2. “All in all, the problems of Robert / Anne are abnormal.” For both child and adult vignettes, two out of three respondents agreed that “we are all sometimes like this person.” One in three respondents considered the problems depicted in the child vignettes as abnormal. That dropped to one in four in the adult vignettes.

Next, respondents were asked whether they ever had a problem like this, and whether someone among their family or close friends ever had to deal with such a problem. For both vignettes, one in four acknowledged having had a problem like this, and half said a close friend or family member had such a problem.

On the assumption that “negative emotional reactions are an important consequence of negative stereotypes, leading to separation, discrimination and status loss,” respondents were probed for their specific emotional reactions. “I feel annoyed,” “I react angrily,” and “provokes my incomprehension” were interpreted as indicating varying levels of anger.“Provokes fear” and “Makes me feel insecure” were seen as indicating fear. “I feel uncomfortable” was viewed as indicating somewhere between fear and anger. On the other hand, “I feel the need to help,” “I feel pity,” and “I feel sympathy” were interpreted as “pro-social” responses.

Pro-social reactions were by far the most common. Over two-thirds felt a need to help a child, and over half to help an adult, in such a situation. In both instances, almost half felt sympathy, and a half or more felt pity. On the other hand, a quarter of respondents in each case felt annoyed, and just under one in five felt uncomfortable. Almost one in seven reacted angrily to the child vignette, and almost one in six to the adult vignette. Fear was the least frequent emotional reaction.

In the case of adults, respondents were also asked about their willingness to accept the person described in the vignette in seven social situations:

·        Working together
·        As a neighbor
·        Marrying into the family
·        Introducing to a friend
·        Renting a room
·        Recommending for a job
old adult·        Taking care of chi

While three out of four respondents were willing to accept such persons as co-workers, only one in three would recommend them for a job. Two out of three would accept such persons as neighbors, and almost as many to marry into the family. Three out of five would very willingly introduce such persons to friends. Slightly over half would rent a room to them. But less than one in three would be willing to have such individuals take care of their own children.

Older respondents were more likely to see the problems as“abnormal” and to seek greater social distance. Women, and respondents with higher levels of education, were less likely to see the problems as abnormal and more likely to respond in pro-social ways.

Though showing most Germans to be accepting of persons with ADHD, these findings still indicate a significant degree of stigma, though less than for other psychiatric conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, or alcohol dependence.

Sven Speerforck, Susanne Stolzenburg, Johannes Hertel, HansJ. Grabe, Maria Strauß, Mauro G. Carta, Matthias C. Angermeyer, Georg Schomerus, “ADHD, stigma, and continuum beliefs: A population survey on public attitudes towards children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” PsychiatryResearch (2019) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.112570.  

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Swedish Population Study Confirms Association Between ADHD and Height

Nationwide population study in Sweden confirms association between ADHD and shorter height in children and adolescents, suggests stimulant medications are not a factor

A commonly reported risk associated with ADHD medication is reduced growth in height. But studies to date have generally not adequately described or measured possible confounders, such as genetic factors, prenatal factors, or socioeconomic factors. What if ADHD were associated with reduced height even in the absence of medications? 

An international study team explored this question by performing a nationwide population study comparing data from before (1968-1991) and after (1992-2020) the adoption of stimulant therapy for ADHD in Sweden. 

The country’s single-payer health insurance system that connects patient records with all other national registers through unique personal identification numbers makes such analysis possible. Sweden also has military service conscription, which records the heights of 18-year-old males.

The participants were all 14,268 Swedish males with a diagnosis of ADHD who were drafted into military service at any time from 1968 through 2020. 

Up to five non-ADHD controls were identified for each ADHD case, matched by sex (they had to be male), birth year, and county. The total number of controls was 71,339.

Among 34,586 participants in the period before adoption of stimulant medications (1968-1991), those diagnosed with ADHD had roughly 30% greater odds of being shorter than normal (166-172 vs. 173-185 cm) than typically developing controls. That dropped to 20% greater odds among the 34,714 participants in the cohort following adoption of stimulant medications.

The odds of those diagnosed with ADHD being much shorter than normal (150-165 vs. 173-185 cm) remained identical (about 55% greater) among the almost 30,000 participants in both cohorts.

In other words, there was no increase in the odds of ADHD individuals being shorter than normal after adoption of stimulant therapy in Sweden compared with before such adoption.

Furthermore, after adjusting for known confounders, including birth weight, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, hypothyroidism, anxiety disorders, depression, substance use disorder, and highest parental education, the odds of those diagnosed with ADHD being shorter than normal or much shorter than normal in the 1992-2020 cohort dropped to roughly 10% and 30% greater, respectively.

Could it be the disorder itself rather than stimulant treatment that is associated with reduced height in individuals diagnosed with ADHD?

To address effects of environmental and familial/genetic confounding, the team then compared the entire cohort of males diagnosed with ADHD from 1968 through 2020 with typically developing male relatives, ranging from first cousins to full siblings.

Among full siblings, the odds of those with ADHD diagnoses being shorter (over 90,000 participants) or much shorter (over 77,000 participants) were a statistically significant 14% and 18%, respectively.

The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that ADHD is associated with shorter height. On a population level, this association was present both before and after ADHD-medications were available in Sweden. The association between ADHD and height was partly explained by prenatal factors, psychiatric comorbidity, low SES [socioeconomic status] and a shared familial liability for ADHD.”

January 9, 2024

Swedish nationwide population study finds mothers with ADHD have elevated risk of depression and anxiety disorders after childbirth

Swedish nationwide population study finds mothers with ADHD have elevated risk of depression and anxiety disorders after childbirth

In the general population, most mothers experience mood disturbances right after childbirth, commonly known as postpartum blues, baby blues, or maternity blues. Yet only about one in six develop symptoms with a duration and magnitude that require treatment for depressive disorder, and one in ten for anxiety disorder.

To what extent does ADHD contribute to the risk of such disorders following childbirth? A Swedish study team used the country’s single-payer health insurance database and other national registers to conduct the first nationwide population study to explore this question.

They used the medical birth register to identify all 420,513 women above 15 years of age who gave birth to their first child, and all 352,534 who gave birth to their second child, between 2005 and 2013. They excluded miscarriages. They then looked for diagnoses of depression and/or anxiety disorders up to a year following childbirth.

In the study population, 3,515 mothers had been diagnosed with ADHD, and the other 769,532 had no such diagnosis. 

Following childbirth, depression disorders were five times more prevalent among mothers with ADHD than among their non-ADHD peers. Excluding individuals with a prior history of depression made little difference, lowering the prevalence ratio to just under 5. Among women under 25, the prevalence ratio was still above 3, while for those 25 and older it was above 6.

Similarly, anxiety disorders were over five times more prevalent among mothers with ADHD than among their non-ADHD peers. Once again, excluding individuals with a prior history of depression made little difference, lowering the prevalence ratio to just under 5. Among women under 25, the prevalence ratio was still above 3, while for those 25 and older it was above 6.

The team cautioned, “There is a potential risk of surveillance bias as women diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have repeated visits to psychiatric care and might have an enhanced likelihood of also being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders postpartum, compared to women without ADHD.”

Nevertheless, they concluded, “ADHD is an important risk factor for both depression and anxiety disorders in the postpartum period and should be considered in the post- pregnancy maternal care, regardless of sociodemographic factors and the presence of other psychiatric disorders. Parental education prior to conception, psychological surveillance during, and social support after childbirth should be provided to women diagnosed with ADHD.”

December 22, 2023

Meta-analysis suggests acupuncture might offer effective treatment for ADHD, but suffers from methodological flaws

Meta-analysis suggests acupuncture might offer effective treatment for ADHD, but suffers from methodological flaws

Noting that previous “systematic reviews concluded that currently available data on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for treating ADHD are yet to be sufficient to support its routine use,” a South Korean study team conducted an updated systematic search of the medical literature for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with drug treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD. There were no restrictions on language or publication type.

Only two of the meta-analyses involved more than two RCTs. 

One of them, of six RCTs with a combined 541 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of acupuncture to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines. 

Another, of five RCTs with a total of 351 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of combined acupuncture and ADHD drugs to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines.

Two RCTs with a Noting that previous “systematic reviews concluded that currently available data on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for treating ADHD are yet to be sufficient to support its routine use,” a South Korean study team conducted an updated systematic search of the medical literature for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with drug treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD. There were no restrictions on language or publication type.

Only two of the meta-analyses involved more than two RCTs. 

One of them, of six RCTs with a combined 541 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of acupuncture to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines. 

Another, of five RCTs with a total of 351 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of combined acupuncture and ADHD drugs to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines.

Two RCTs with a combined 152 participants reported a large effect size improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms from acupuncture treatment versus conventional drug treatment.

From this one could superficially conclude that acupuncture is at least as effective for treating ADHD as the medicines currently considered to be the standard of care, and that there is no need to combine acupuncture with drug treatment.

However, there were numerous methodological shortcomings:

  • No effort was made to look for publication bias.
  • There were few RCTs, and the combined number of participants was relatively small.
  • Only one of the six RCTs in the first meta-analysis and none of the five RCTs in the second meta-analysis was rated “low risk of bias.”
  • Though nowhere stated in the journal article, there may have been cultural bias as well. All studies included in the meta-analyses were conducted in China. As China has emerged as a global superpower, it has been eager to portray its traditional medicine as at least equal if not superior to forms of medicine originating elsewhere.
  • The authors noted, “the quality of the studies included in this systematic review was poor. Assessing the blinding of studies is a major aspect in determining the risk of bias of a study, but most of the studies did not provide any relevant information.” 

The authors concluded, “The current evidence on AT [acupuncture treatment] is still too limited to support its routine use in treating ADHD.”

152 participants reported a large effect size improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms from acupuncture treatment versus conventional drug treatment.

From this one could superficially conclude that acupuncture is at least as effective for treating ADHD as the medicines currently considered to be the standard of care, and furthermore that there is no need to combine acupuncture with drug treatment.

However, there were numerous methodological shortcomings:

  • No effort was made to look for publication bias.
  • There were few RCTs, and the combined number of participants was relatively small.
  • Only one of the six RCTs in the first meta-analysis and none of the five RCTs in the second meta-analysis was rated “low risk of bias.”
  • Though nowhere stated in the journal article, there may have been cultural bias as well. All studies included in the meta-analyses were conducted in China. As China has emerged as a global superpower, it has been eager to portray its traditional medicine as at least equal if not superior to forms of medicine originating elsewhere.
  • The authors noted, “the quality of the studies included in this systematic review was poor. Assessing the blinding of studies is a major aspect in determining the risk of bias of a study, but most of the studies did not provide any relevant information.” 

The authors concluded, “The current evidence on AT [acupuncture treatment] is still too limited to support its routine use in treating ADHD.”

January 4, 2024