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Louisiana - The Epicenter of the Childhood ADHD Crisis

Learn about the contributing factors, implications, and potential solutions surrounding Louisiana’s ADHD crisis.
Written by
Connor Beaulieu

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In the wake of COVID-19 and its radical effects on everyday life, the way we view mental health has similarly shifted—both as individuals and a nation. Still, despite the diminishing stigma that once surrounded mental health, many of America’s systems have struggled to keep pace with the needs of its citizens.

Among the countless conditions in need of greater support and funding, ADHD has become one of the most pressing mental health issues of America’s 21st century. As of 2024, the condition affects more than 10% of people nationwide. Pair this statistic with a growing demand for medications and a shortage of 1 billion prescription stimulant doses in 2022, and you have a recipe for disaster.

For Louisiana—which has had the highest rates of childhood ADHD for four consecutive years—the stress of this silent epidemic continues to climb. In 2023, more than 16% of Louisiana’s children between the ages of 3 and 17 were diagnosed with the disorder, and some experts fear that number will remain high until broad, systemic changes are made.

A Struggling School System

Over the past decade, Louisiana’s high school graduation rates have risen by more than 10%, from a worrying 70% in 2011 to a more competitive 82% in 2023. Even so, these numbers fall short of the American national average, which sits strong at nearly 88% nationwide.

More worrisome still are trends in college enrollment, with some projections, such as the one by Carleton College professor Nathan Grawe, estimating as much as a 15% drop in Louisiana’s enrollment by 2029.

These issues are driven by many factors—among them a declining birth rate and nationwide inflation—but experts have long recognized a strong correlation between neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, and downward academic trends.

Specifically, a 2011 study found that almost 35% of high school students with ADHD drop out or fail to graduate on time compared to peers without the condition, and a similar study in 2016 found that only 5% of young adults with ADHD go on to graduate college.

While it’s nearly impossible to calculate just how much Louisiana’s ADHD rates are affecting statewide trends in schooling, it’s safe to say that the condition—and those like it—only serve to worsen an already dire academic situation.

Overburdened Healthcare

Historically, Louisiana has faced severe challenges in healthcare across several metrics, from higher total rates of disease to increased burnout among medical professionals. In the years between 2009 and 2019, the state consistently ranked between 47th and 50th in the country on multiple national health surveys.

Unfortunately, this gap in health services also extends to mental health, with one 2022 survey estimating that nearly 80% of Louisiana’s citizens live in areas without adequate mental health care. These numbers mean that Louisiana ranks 47th among states for access to mental health services.

For some, this means that many children and adults may never receive a diagnosis for ADHD or related mental health conditions. Even for those who do receive a formal diagnosis, the majority of cases are treated solely with medications, many of which have been in short supply following a COVID-19-era demand boom.

In Louisiana, which leads the nation for childhood ADHD prescriptions, more than 12% of children with ADHD are prescribed medication for the condition—a rate that exceeds the number two state, South Carolina, by a full 2%. Comparatively, only 6% of children with ADHD in Louisiana receive behavioral therapy.

Tatiana Cruz, MSW and LCSW, says that these trends are closely tied to an area’s finances, “Most people prefer medication instead of talk therapy or coaching because they’re interested in faster results and don’t have financial access to other treatments.”

Beyond treatment, some clinicians theorize that Louisiana’s strained mental health system may be contributing to an overdiagnosis of ADHD. “It’s entirely possible that an overburdened health system is leading to more diagnoses of ADHD due to the medical provider not having time to thoroughly assess symptoms,” says Jenna Nielsen, a Master of Social Work and licensed clinician.

Financial Strain

Another often-overlooked impact of ADHD is the financial burden it imposes on adults with the condition or parents of children with ADHD. In 2019, a large-scale study on the topic found that raising a child with ADHD costs 528% more than raising a so-called “neurotypical” child. On average, this came with a price tag of $15,036 per child.

These increased costs are often due to medical expenses, lowered work productivity for parents of children with ADHD, and even incidental costs such as speeding tickets among teens with the condition.

The financial strain of ADHD doesn’t end in childhood, however. An even more recent study in 2021 found that ADHD costs America more than $122 billion per year, mostly due to increased unemployment rates and lost productivity among adults with ADHD.

In Louisiana, long recognized as one of America’s poorest states, the impact of these extra costs can be even more disastrous and, in many cases, lifelong.

“Many studies have found a strong correlation between high rates of ADHD and poorer states. In these states, people have been struggling with ADHD-related symptoms since childhood but have not received the appropriate evaluations or treatment,” says Cruz, a licensed clinical social worker with more than two decades of experience, “Without these evaluations and treatments, childhood can become especially challenging and result in behavioral issues that continue through adulthood.”

Compounding the issue is the relationship between behavioral issues, incarceration, and ADHD rates among the prison population, which sit at nearly 25%. In addition to leading the country for childhood ADHD, Louisiana also has the largest incarceration rate of any state, with 1,094 inmates per 100,000 citizens. Arguably even more concerning is the fact that, since 2023, officials have warned that Louisiana’s juvenile detention centers are at capacity.

With academic interests falling and incarceration rates rising, experts and Louisiana residents agree that something more needs to be done to set its youth up for success.

The Path Forward

Despite grim projections about Louisiana’s ADHD crisis and struggling academic system, public awareness of the issues is rising as the conversation surrounding mental health grows in pitch and volume.

Throughout the state, community leaders and activists push for expanded facilities and programs to help children and adults alike with not only ADHD but related conditions as well, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

On a larger scale, America’s telehealth network continues to expand, with many online providers focusing on deliberate outreach to the rural areas across the country most in need of reliable mental health care.

Until statewide initiatives gain footing and momentum, these resources, combined with grassroots efforts, will likely be Louisiana’s best bet for improving the lives of children and adults with ADHD.

References

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