Hundreds of thousands more schoolchildren should be treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), say leading experts.
A major study led by University of Oxford academics suggests ADHD is seriously underdiagnosed and says more children should be given medication such as Ritalin, which it found is highly effective.
Concerns have been raised about the number of youngsters overmedicated for the disorder – but the evidence suggests just 10 per cent of those with ADHD are on any form of medication.
“We have strong evidence that in the UK, and many countries outside the US, ADHD is underrecognised and underdiagnosed,” said Professor David Coghill, a child and adolescent psychiatry expert from the University of Melbourne and a co-author of the study.
“If you don’t recognise and diagnose you don’t have the option to think about the treatment they receive.”
The hallmarks of ADHD include short attention span, impulsivity and hyperactivity, and if undiagnosed it can seriously hamper an individual’s life chances, the authors of the study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry said.
Those with the condition who are never diagnosed are much more likely to struggle with employment and education, be involved in crime and end up in prison.
They also have death rates four times higher than the general population, with road traffic accidents – as pedestrians or drivers – being a particular issue as well as unhealthy habits such as smoking and having a poor diet.
Five per cent of the UK’s 10.3 million schoolchildren are said to have ADHD – more than half a million – but just 0.5 per cent (roughly 50,000 pupils) are on medication, the authors said.
The study found that all forms of psychiatric medication given to treat ADHD in those aged five to 17 improved symptoms more than a placebo, with Ritalin the best performer.
“It’s always difficult to say how many more children should be on medication,” Dr Andrea Cipriani, one of the study’s authors from the University of Oxford, told The Independent, saying this was a very individual decision and patients not receiving treatment may have milder symptoms or may not know they’re an option.
“It’s true that the more severe the patient, the more likely it is that they’re referred to secondary services to be treated.
“The big problem is the great majority of patients in socially deprived areas do not have access to [these] services or there’s a stigma about it, or the awareness of mental health among parents or the schools is not there.
“Diagnosis is a social problem, once they’re diagnosed we have a clear pattern of care.”
‘How to survive the Matrix = Give Them Drugs’
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