British Columbia

British Columbians say they feel stigmatized, ignored when seeking ADHD diagnosis

Andrea Fraser-Winsby, a Vancouver-based woman, was told by her doctor she did not have ADHD and was advised to use a planner to stay organized.

ADHD affects four to six per cent of adults in Canada

A woman is pictured sitting in a booth with her daughter.
Andrea Fraser-Winsby, pictured with her daughter, says receiving an ADHD diagnosis at age 47 changed her life. (Andrea Fraser-Winsby)

When Andrea Fraser-Winsby, 48, went to her family doctor to seek a diagnosis for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) last year, she was immediately told she did not have the condition. 

Fraser-Winsby, who lives in Vancouver, had spent her whole life struggling with organizational skills, time management, and forgetfulness. 

After seeing TikTok videos describing ADHD, she realized she might have the disorder, which affects people's ability to regulate their attention, emotions and impulses.

But when she went to her family doctor, he told her to "get a planner" to help her with organizational skills.  

"He basically said, 'I don't think you have that,'" said Fraser-Winsby. "He just shut me down and it was really discouraging." 

ADHD, now understood to be largely hereditary, affects approximately five to seven per cent of children and four to six per cent of adults, or 1.8 million Canadians, according to the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada. 

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Fraser-Winsby said she was so hopeful as she headed to see her doctor to get help, but she left feeling dismissed, confused, and totally alone. 

"I left that appointment and sat in the car and cried for 20 minutes."

In order to receive a timely diagnosis, Fraser-Winsby sought out treatment from a private online mental health practice.

For the last year, she has paid a monthly fee of $129 for her diagnosis, online therapy sessions and appointments with her medication prescriber. 

She says her life has completely transformed since receiving her diagnosis and treatment: she is more productive at work, has more energy, and even noticed improvements in everyday tasks like driving. 

But she says this should not be a luxury only available to those who can afford it. 

"If I wasn't in a place to be able to pay out of pocket I don't know what else I could have done," said Fraser-Winsby. 

'Misunderstood condition'

Samantha Monckton, who lives in Victoria, was diagnosed with ADHD in Sept. 2022 at age 51 — a diagnosis she says changed her life. 

But like Fraser-Winsby, she struggled to find a doctor who understood the condition well enough to diagnose her. She also paid out of pocket for a private diagnosis.  

"It shone all the light in all the darkest corners of my brain. I feel 100 per cent different than who I was before diagnosis," said Monckton.

A woman stands outdoors witht he sun behind her.
Samantha Monckton says her ADHD diagnosis changed her life after being misdiagnosed for years. (Submitted by Samantha Monckton)

When she later asked her doctor to sign her application form to get the federal disability tax credit, she was told her ADHD was not enough of an obstacle to receive the credit. 

"It's such an unknown and misunderstood condition," said Monckton. "I just wanted to find somebody who actually gets it." 

Lack of training for doctors

Adult ADHD coach and advocate Pete Quily, who is based in Vancouver, says the issue stems from a lack of training for medical practitioners. 

"If you are an adult with [ADHD], you have to assume your doctor, and sadly sometimes your psychiatrist and psychologist, are not properly trained on [ADHD] until proven otherwise," said Quily. 

Quily says he has heard many stories from clients about being ignored or dismissed by doctors. Particularly, he has heard of many doctors asserting that patients can't have the condition because they do well in school or work. 

"People with [ADHD] are so stigmatized they will very rarely complain … about what a nightmare it is to get a diagnosis," said Quily.

He says all doctors in B.C. should have mandatory continuing education courses on how to diagnose and treat ADHD. 

In a statement to CBC, the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine said ADHD care for adults is included in their curriculum's learning outcomes for family doctors. 

"UBC family medicine resident doctors also enhance their knowledge and clinical skills in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD through lectures, academic sessions and through clinical exposure in family medicine and specialty rotations," says the statement. 

UBC also said medical graduates who choose to pursue psychiatry for their residency learn about the condition extensively.