Adult ADHD diagnoses on the rise – Manulife

There's been a sharp spike in claims for ADHD medications

Adult ADHD diagnoses on the rise – Manulife

Life & Health

By Mika Pangilinan

More adults have been diagnosed with ADHD over the last five years, Manulife said in a new report, pointing to a sharp increase in claims for medications used to treat the condition. 

The Toronto-headquartered insurer has found a 24.5% increase in unique claimants for ADHD medication among individuals aged 18 and over from 2021 to 2022. By comparison, the average claimant growth rate recorded between 2017 and 2020 was 15.3%. 

 “Our data reflects the understanding that ADHD is not simply something ‘you grow out of,’” said Ashesh Desai, head of group benefits for Manulife Canada. “The fact that this condition can – and clearly does – continue into adulthood is something that all employers should know.”

 ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in Canada, according to the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA). It affects approximately 4-6% of adults and 5-7% of children, accounting for around 1.8 million Canadians.

 Left untreated, ADHD can coexist with other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, posing risk factors for various health issues, including heart disease and obesity.

 In an earlier report, Manulife reported that an average of 48 days per employee were lost in 2022 due to health‑related absences and presenteeism.

“Our goal with our second Special Report on Employee Health Insights is to help ensure employees are set up for success,” said Desai. “With these insights, employers can better influence, mitigate, and stay ahead of the issues affecting the well-being of their employees and by doing so, create healthier workplaces that contribute to organizational success and bottom-line business results.”

Factors driving ADHD uptick

Other insights highlighted in Manulife’s report include the potential reasons for the uptick in ADHD diagnoses in recent years. 

A primary contributor identified in the report is an increase in overall awareness of ADHD, with medical professionals having become more adept at recognizing the signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults.

The widespread adoption of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic may have also contributed to the emergence of ADHD symptoms previously concealed by structured office settings, according to the report.

The prevalence of social media posts discussing ADHD signs and symptoms may be another factor, the report added, prompting more people to consult their doctors about potential ADHD concerns.

“Increasing claims related to mental health concerns can indicate overall worsening mental health and increased prevalence of mental health diagnoses,” said Dr. Steve Pomedli, Manulife’s medical director of group benefits through Cleveland Clinic Canada. 

“But the increase we're seeing in ADHD, especially in the adult population, can also suggest improved awareness of this disorder and that more individuals are accessing needed services. In the long run, this can be seen as positive as individuals take proactive steps to improve their health and well-being.”

Diagnosing ADHD in women

Manulife’s report also sheds light on the underdiagnosis of ADHD in women. 

ADHD has traditionally been diagnosed more in men than women, but Manulife found that this gap is rapidly narrowing. In 2022, the ratio of ADHD diagnoses was 53% male to 47% female, compared to five years ago when it was 60% male and 40% female. 

The exact reason behind the underdiagnosis in women is unclear, but the Cleavland Clinic has said that this could be due to how symptoms manifest differently for each gender.

According to Pomedli, men tend to exhibit more behaviors associated with impulsivity or hyperactivity, while women often display symptoms related to inattentiveness, which are often harder to spot. 

“Because these symptoms related to inattention may be more subtle, this seems to have led to the underdiagnosis of girls and women, with many women not getting a diagnosis or starting appropriate treatment until well into adulthood,” Pomedli said. 

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