Allowing and encouraging employees to seek proper treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will boost health and morale, as well as save money in the workplace, since providing accommodations for ADHD is an inexpensive way to boost overall workforce productivity, said Beata Komierowski, outpatient psychiatrist at Psychiatric Adult Services, during a session supported by Takeda Canada at Benefits Canada‘s 2022 Mental Health Summit in November.

ADHD is a neurological condition defined by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity, she said, noting it’s a chronic illness that interferes with functioning or development and requires long-term psychological and pharmacological management. ADHD negatively impacts a person’s social, academic and occupational activities, she added, and there’s robust academic data showing how this condition can lead to many costly outcomes.

“This is why the overall burden of illness might be so great in those [with ADHD] who otherwise seem well and are still ‘functioning’ in society.”

Read: Understanding the challenges of managing mental health in the workplace with a focus on ADHD

ADHA diagnoses increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with the reasons multi-faceted. First, case numbers have jumped due to the new virtual reality, as people are now planted in front of a screen at home for eight hours a day, said Komierowski, adding this type of working environment is conducive to ADHD symptoms. Because of this, people are seeking information and diagnoses more readily.

Second, the adaptive mechanisms put in place by people with ADHD were disrupted by the pandemic, making their symptoms more pronounced, she noted. And social media has elucidated the fact that ADHD is a very relevant mental-health condition. “People may have seen things on social media sites, causing them to seek treatment or reach out to health-care practitioners.”

New studies have found ADHD affects seven per cent — or more — of children, with between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of cases persisting into adulthood, said Komierowski. Further, other studies have investigated the impact of ADHD in adults when it comes to education, employability and productivity in the workplace. “On average, people with this condition make $40,000 less in annually salary and are four-times as likely to be laid off or fired.”

Indeed, the impact of inadequately treating employees with ADHD is great, she said, highlighting that absenteeism is higher in these individuals and productivity is much lower if the condition is untreated or undertreated.

Read: A look at the past, present and future of benefits plans

Research has also shown the macroeconomic cost of ADHD to the U.S. economy is between $134 billion and $266 billion annually, with the median direct cost for adults about US$2,800 per person each year. Meanwhile, the calculated cost of untreating or undertreating ADHD in Canada is anywhere between $6.2 billion and $32 billion annually, which is most likely due to lost productivity, said Komierowski. “Comparatively, in 2014, the incremental cost of all substance use in Canada was $38.4 billion and the lost productivity cost of depression and anxiety, respectively, was $32.2 billion and $17.3 billion.”

From an academic perspective, the cost-effectiveness of treating ADHD must be quantified and calculated, she said. And from a business point of view, she suggested employers allow their employees the extra time to seek diagnosis, treatment and therapy for this condition. “The literature states it’s cost-effective — both to the employer and macro-economically — to allow for treatment.”

ADHD is one of the more treatable conditions in the realm of psychiatry, said Komierowski, and with the proper management and mental-health support, thousands of individuals have been able to back to work, make professional goals and reach them.

Read more coverage of the 2022 Mental Health Summit.