Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

When Sam Mitchell returned to Tasmania to live, he found it extremely difficult to access treatment for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Tasmania has only one specialist ADHD clinic serving the entire state and only three psychiatrists taking ADHD patients.

For Mr Mitchell, this meant that he resorted to visiting a psychiatrist in Victoria to deal with his illness.

“I called all the psychiatric clinics in Tasmania,” he said.

“Their books were either full, they were not interested, or they did not want to accept a new patient they had not diagnosed as a child.”

Seeking interstate support

Mitchell was born in Tasmania, but moved to Victoria as a young adult, where he received specialized support for his ADHD from a psychiatrist in Melbourne.

When he moved back to Tasmania in 2016, he tried to access local services but said he found it “virtually impossible” to find support as an adult client.

He gave up searching locally and kept his already existing psychiatrist in Melbourne.

“I am very fortunate to have this doctor in Melbourne,” he said.

Before the pandemic, he traveled the interstate for face-to-face appointments at his own expense. He has since had to rely on telecommunications health agreements.

Mitchell believes his health outcomes would have been very different if he did not have access to specialized psychiatric and pharmacological support.

“I do not know if I would have been able to graduate from university or achieve what I have been able to achieve.”

Dr.  Ross Kirkman in a shirt with a whale motif and glasses looks at the camera.  There are green trees in the background.
Dr. Ross Kirkman is one of three psychiatrists taking adult ADHD patients in Tasmania.( ABC Radio Hobart: Lucie Cutting)

ADHD an “equality problem”

Psychiatrist Ross Kirkman is a rare finding for adult ADHD sufferers in Tasmania.

He is one of three psychiatrists in Hobart who receive ADHD clients.

Dr. Kirkman says long-standing belief in the medical specialty is part of the problem.

“Historically, psychiatrists in Tasmania were taught that adult ADHD was a myth, that they were just looking for drugs,” he said.

“In the Tasmanian psychiatric community, we have had to overcome a lot of resistance, and there is still quite a lot of resistance among Tasmanian-trained psychiatrists that adult ADHD is a major problem.”

Dr. Kirkman refers to the situation in Tasmania as a “stock issue”.

He says children can access pediatricians in public for free to have their ADHD treated, but then when they grow up, there is no longer public health support.

Dr. Kirkman believes a public health solution will take years; he currently sees about six new ADHD patients a day through private practice.

Over the past year, he has focused almost exclusively on ADHD.

“I do not bother because I think it is a terribly satisfying disorder to treat,” he said.

“The results you see can be life-changing for people.”

Maddi Derrick sitting on a gray sofa looking at the camera and smiling
Dr. Maddi Derrick says many patients opt for telehealth appointments with intergovernmental specialists.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

The strictest rules in Australia

Clinical psychologist Maddi Derrick is the director of Tasmania’s only specialized ADHD clinic.

She receives calls for ADHD treatment from across Australia, but limits her services to Tasmania due to local demand.

Adult clients still experience a waiting time of eight to 12 months to access services offered by Dr. Derrick and her team.

She says that stigma and misunderstandings of ADHD are a problem and that for adults there are many “closed doors”.

“Many adults with ADHD have struggled with substance abuse because of the mental illness they experience,” she said.

“When they are finally able to access treatment, their attempts at self-medication can become a barrier.”

For Dr. Derrick, Mr Mitchell’s situation and solution is a well-known story, especially for people who have previously lived on the Australian mainland.

She said many adults also choose to see a psychiatrist on the mainland via telehealth.

Both options still require a local GP to make a final deregistration in order to access medication prescribed intergovernmental.

A solution for now

For Mr. Mitchell, this extra brace is one he is willing to jump through after his struggle to access a psychiatrist who would prescribe the necessary medication locally.

“There comes a point where it’s not just a matter of having ADHD, there are other things attached to it,” he said.

In 2021, he ran as a Labor candidate in Clark’s seat in Tasmania.

“We’re out there we can achieve so much when we can channel it right.”

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