ADHD in New Zealand

New Zealand/Aotearoa is an interesting place to live with a neurodivergent brain. It has it’s pro’s and con’s and in comparison to the rest of the world is reasonably progressive regarding changes to the mental health system and what it can offer. But it has it’s own unique problems. And they are pretty serious for those who are navigating it.

Personally I feel like a unicorn when it comes to my diagnosis. The more I listen to others diagnosis stories the more I realize how lucky I was to have such a quick assessment. I had barely any waiting time on the waiting list for the center where I got diagnosed. Not even 2 weeks! And then I even had after care. However in all fairness I was very much on the edge of the cliff when this happened.

I had complained about anxiety and depression impacting my life for a long time at this point. Which is the general experience for many undiagnosed adults. A consequence almost of having untreated ADHD.

As swift as my diagnosis was. I was sent out in to the world with little to no tools to be an ADHD person. Resources few and specialist care expensive. I had to do a lot of self reflection on what ADHD presents like for me. It was in part help to some online Facebook support groups and ADDITUDE magazine, however both not the best or reputable sources and later found out a lot I had initially learned was geared at trying to further pathologize me (but more on that shortly).

Access to medication and funding for it is a whole other thing and is reasonable in New Zealand because of the subsidies on the cost of medication here. One does not need health insurance, only a ‘special authority number’ assigned to you by a psychiatrist. The variety of what is available however is somewhat limiting, but it is easily available (I say that lightly as it’s still an annoying process but something I’m personally willing to put up with).

About 5 years or so after my diagnosis, I hit a major slump with my mental health. That was due to a lot going on in my life but that’s also around the time that I really started looking at how much ADHD impacts my life. It wasn’t that I was unaware before but I never bothered to really put words to it. It was only in my last job doing peer support work at a community center for other ND people was when I was gifted words of articulation. It was through sharing experiences with others that I could see how much ADHD intersected with my every day life. And that there really wasn’t much ADHD didn’t influence.

The kinda stuff you actually wish you were told when you were first diagnosed. But how can a psychologist not living with ADHD possibly tell me this information. They really couldn’t as much as they are experts on the clinical side. Not everything about ADHD is clinical. And what is disabling isn’t always from actions of my own but the way the world is designed around me. It is not made for me, the minority (Neurominority), it was designed and works for mostly neurotypical brains.

As Neurodiverse as all humans can be, some design accommodations already exist. However many that is needed do not and that is because Neurotypical people are not experiencing this directly. And that’s where mental health care in New Zealand falls short. Aside from long waiting lists, gatekeeping ADHD deniers and the stigma with such a ‘label’, it’s tough work being ADHD and the expectations of performance is high because we don’t appear to struggle with any obvious cognitive issues aside from direction of focus. How could a world not living with this condition in majority numbers possibly accommodate something they can’t even see nor experience. It’s a very invisible Neurocognitive condition.

But even more so for marginalized peoples of my country. For example a quick google in scholarly for the keywords “Māori ADHD” yields little to nothing. Whether I am able to access any studies that do exist is one thing, but what is available they are child centric and really do nothing to discuss the real life struggles that come for Māori and other polynesian peoples. Especially where ethnicity and racism intersect.

A figures chart provided by the Ministry of Health (again child centric) shows a staggering large difference for NZ European children being diagnosed compared to the other groups of ethnicity within the country.

And the above numbers again from past published studies suggest this number has always been considerably low, and even more alarming is the lack of access to services.

As a mixed person with Māori heritage, an AFAB cis woman, and being diagnosed as an adult. I wouldn’t think I am even noted in any of these statistics (at least I couldn’t find anything current). Which again says a lot about the lack of intersectional studies happening.

The lack of representation in the country is also a problem. With local media continuously getting information about the Neurodiversity movement wrong and only seeming to care when ADHD is an on trend topic. My page ‘Jenn has ADHD’ is already the largest ADHD resource for New Zealanders on Facebook and many other social media platforms, and I do believe that is because there simply is not much else. Although other advocates are also doing the same important work, between the few of us who are, there really is little to no visibility for ADHD in every day life. Meaning many ADHD New Zealanders are often alone and isolated in their diagnosis. There’s no actual representation of ADHD in popular TV media locally. And only a few ‘celebrities’ and public figures have ever risked “coming out” about their diagnosis in fear of being labelled crazy and so on.

All these factors make it incredibly difficult to be understood. And ADHD and other neurodivergent peoples are having to navigate many unnecessary obstacles because of this invisibility and lack of autonomy that comes with understanding and accommodation. Individuals have no agency in the workplace and school as they are often written off as “too much of a problem” or not taken seriously at all. The other issue is the lack of agency given to ND children and are still segregated with ‘special needs education’ classes.

With much reform happening and shifting away from old education paradigms and ideas. It still feels like it is not being done right because the people making these decisions are not one of us and some how seem to know what is best. It’s definitely an uphill battle for many to have any understanding in their individual Neurotype and many presentations as not all ADHDers are simply living with one diagnosis. The blanketing of treatment means that individual needs are being overlooked as a one size fits all which is very much a Neurotypical view on “the problem”.

If you have ADHD, diagnosed or undiagnosed, or self describe as Neurodivergent because you also live with more than one neurotype. I want you to know I do see you, and your experiences are relevant. I wanted to close this blog with something more or positive to say but where we are at right now with public awareness and understanding is very much in it’s infancy and we have awhile to go especially compared to other social movements (which actually greatly intersect with Neurodivergency but that’s another blog!) I do hope however that the popularity of my page definitely reflects a shift if not locally at least globally. This can be seen across all areas where mental health intersects with our every day lives and identity. And the community is growing in solidarity as we all connect easier now thanks to the internet, we are more visible maybe not to the general masses but to each other which I think is a wonderful thing and great progress.


Published by Jenn has ADHD

Jenn Parker, New Zealand. ADHD Advocate and Peer.

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