Minorities face disparities in treatment of ADHD basically through 1) lack of access to treatment options, 2) lack of acknowledgement of the condition as a real condition, and 3) parents’ mistrust and perceived stigma of treatment and medications for the condition.
Many minorities are low-income. This means that they already lack access to health care. They generally get their treatment for serious conditions and less serious ones alike in emergency rooms. Therefore, they are less likely to get treatment for behavioral and mental health conditions.
Second, minorities often do not acknowledge ADHD as a real condition, and therefore do not consider it treatable. They may think that kids are just being kids, and that the behavior is normal. They may think teachers and schools are over-reacting. Either way, they do not see ADHD as a legitimate condition requiring medication, and therefore do not seek treatment.
As a result of lack of legitimacy and lack of access to health care in minority populations, many low-income families face treatment disparities when it comes to ADHD.
There is also a gap created by the differing cultural attitudes between minorities and non-minorities in regards to the stigma surrounding mental health disorders and the mistrust of treatment for those conditions. To investigate this disparity, one study surveyed 70 minority-group families of children with untreated ADHD. Three to six months after questioning these families “about their knowledge and perceptions of the disorder,” the researchers conducted a follow-up survey. These were the results that they collected:
By the three- to six-month follow-up, 48 percent of the children had not attended any mental health appointments in relation to their condition, while 73 percent of the children had not used any treatments, including medications. (NYU article)
To correct this, the researchers, in a Clinical Pediatrics journal article, “emphasize the importance of addressing parents’ issues of trust, stigma, and the potential effect of medication related to mental health services.” African-Americans, for instance, report greater distrust of diagnoses, while Latino parents generally favor "non-pharmacologic" treatments, fearing that drug medication is "addictive and 'dulls the mind.'" If differing perceptions such as these were better addressed by the medical community, ADHD treatment could become more widely accepted across all ethnic groups.
In the end, two things need to happen before minorities will have equal access to treatment for ADHD. First, we need to deal with the problem of children in poverty; these children lack access to all health care, not just mental health care. Second, we need to acknowledge that there are cultural differences in perceptions of behaviors, as well as treatment of those behaviors. Only after we acknowledge this can we work on educating minority parents about how to help their children be more successful.