A Whanganui woman says she was left in the lurch after police revoked her entry into officer training due to the medication she uses to treat her ADHD. Katie Harris reports.
Nicole Grey first dreamed of becoming a cop as a teenager, and, at age 24, she thought it would finally become a reality.
However, after waiting for about two years to get a place, she says she was told just days before she was due to start training in Wellington that she couldn't attend.
She'd had a busy couple of years - in the space between applying and getting accepted she went through a marriage breakdown, did a tester course on what police life would be like and worked part-time to support her two young children.
"The same 24 hours that I signed my contact into police college, which in itself is an achievement, I stumbled across an article on the internet which mentioned adult ADHD."
From there, she says a light went off in her head.
"Like struggling to do basic tasks round the home, like managing the home, I lose a lot items and forgetfulness, as well emotional regulation issues."
Grey spoke to her doctor who advised her to get a test. This was February last year. She was living in Taupo and was days away from moving to Wellington so alerted the recruitment officer of her situation.
At this point, Grey had already sublet her accommodation and was no longer employed in the area.
She claims she was told by the recruitment officer she just needed to get a diagnosis and start treatment before resubmitting her entry.
She was diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental condition that can cause hyperactive and impulsive behaviour, as well as attention difficulties.
"After being on the medication for a couple months I had a good report from a psychiatrist, well what I felt was a good report, and I hadn't had any side-effects [from the medication]."
In the meantime she was unemployed and living between different homes because she had given up her rental property and her grandfather had also become sick.
"I was travelling between Wellington, Taupo, Tauranga, and Wanganui."
She said it was about a total of five months from her call to the recruitment officer before she sent police the psychiatrist report. She was then given a firm no via email.
"Our entry standards are clear when it comes to individuals on psychotropic drugs," the email reads.
"They state that applicants will not be considered whilst on these medications and will need to prove sustained stability once the treatment cycle has been completed."
Psychotropic medication is an umbrella term for medicine that effects behaviour and mood. These include anti-anxiety medication as well as anti-depressants.
The email cites concerns of her recent diagnosis and the potential for her medication dose to increase, as well as her psychiatrist recommending her being reviewed in the next six to 12 months.
It says there are many stressors police officers could be exposed to which included high-speed pursuits, exposure to verbal abuse and maintaining high levels of concentration for prolonged periods.
The email also provides a link which referenced conditions which "may" exclude applicants - this included psychotropic use.
"It said virtually no one on the medication can get in, so it wasn't 'Oh we need you to be on medication for longer to get in'," Grey says.
"I questioned it quite a bit, and even raised the fact that I felt like I had been misled."
Grey says she was told over email that she could reapply when she was "two years medication and symptom-free".
"I just thought this was hilarious, like do they not understand what this diagnosis is at all."
While children can "grow out" of ADHD symptoms, there is no known "cure" for ADHD.
"I remember waking up the next day and taking the tablet and just looking at it being like, this tablet has just ruined my chances of being a cop any time soon."
But police people operations executive director Kaye Ryan denies police have a blanket policy that automatically excludes any person because of a specific medical or psychological condition, or because of medication related to any condition.
"Each and every application where a condition is identified is fully assessed case by case by a team of medical specialists," she says.
She says police have recently established a Medical Appeals Review Panel for any application that has been declined on medical grounds.
In response to the 2019 rejection letter, which the Herald on Sunday shared with police, the organisation reaffirmed that it did not have a catch-all policy surrounding the drug.
"We acknowledge the way the email was worded may have given the impression there was still a blanket policy in place relating to all psychotropic drugs," says Ryan. "This is not the case and we regret the confusion caused."
She says they are unable to comment on individual cases, but again told the Herald on Sunday each candidate is assessed on a holistic, individual basis.
"In this instance, police sent a follow-up letter to this applicant later that same month and clarified the reasons they had not been successful."
Police say specific medication types can still result in a stand-down period or can contribute to an applicant being declined.
The rejection email also says the recommended time off medication is two years with no ongoing symptoms but an expert from Victoria University of Wellington says ADHD is not something that "goes away".
Educational psychology lecturer Kelly Carrasco says it's lifelong and you don't "recover", with each individual having varying symptoms.
For adults in New Zealand, Carrasco said, the first port of call for treatment tends to be medication but the best method is a combination of therapy and medication.
"There's an assumption that people can't attent and that's really an inaccurate description of what attention looks like in ADHD. Individuals who have ADHD can absolutely attent,
they just a harder time regulating that attention."
She says if individuals are interested in something they are really good at maintaining their focus. As well, they tend to be good problem solvers.
"If they've found something they're really interested in, they can become very good at that task or occupation."
While she couldn't comment specifically on police employment, Carrasco says she always supports making sure we're not excluding people with neuro-developmental disorders from particular professions because of limited understanding.
"I would always want to advocate for looking at what each individual has to offer."
Attention Deficit Disorder Information Service nurse adviser Robin Wynne-Williams says people with ADHD would make great police officers, and said she even knew some who were but they kept their diagnosis secret.
She says the statement sent to Grey was discriminatory and lacked proper understanding and consideration. "It's lifelong and that's all there is to it."
The Mental Health Foundation agrees, with chief executive Shaun Robinson saying people should be judged on their ability to do the job.
Information obtained by the Herald on Sunday through the Official Information Act show there's no requirement for police to record the type of medication staff use and any records that may exist are not centrally collated.
However, workers are required to notify their manager if they feel any medication they use could effect the safety of themselves or others while at work.
A review on the police's psychological standard for recruits, provided by police, by Dr Robert Kydd found while stimulants have the potential to cause a disinhibitory reaction,
some are being used by militaries for alertness and speed of decision making.
"They are also being investigated in particular occupational groups, such as surgeons. Indeed, agents of this type have been sometimes termed as cognitive enhancers."
Later, he says if these medications are used by the police for operational purposes then those taking them should be appropriately evaluated before their use.
A spokesperson from the Human Rights Commission says there is a duty on the state under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to those with disabilities in the workplace.
The Human Rights Act enables terms of employment to be varied, taking into account any special limitations that the disability of a person imposes upon their capacity to carry out the work.
"So it would appear to be open to the police to make an exception if ADHD was to impose a limitation on her capacity to do police work and that her prescribed Ritalin [Methylphenidate] medication would help remove this limitation."
The rejection was only a road bump on the path to finding the right career for Grey, but it still irks her nonetheless.
"I think that the medical policy is not well informed in this area and I don't think they understand ADHD. I think it's a really tricky one, it's a spectrum, it's really hard so I see you have to draw a line somewhere."
Within since weeks of receiving her decline letter from police, Grey, now living in Whanganui and also near Turangi, got a career-advancing job working with youth and went unconditional on a property she had put an offer in on.
She says she could talk all day about how her ADHD would have made her a good cop, but now they'll never know.
"I just thought if you get me down there, I'll meet all the tutors, you'll see that I'm ready to go, I'm competent. The main thing I think is, oh, they missed out."
What is ADHD?
• Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause hyperactive and impulsive behaviour, as well as attention difficulties.
• Both adults and children can be diagnosed with ADHD.
• Not everyone with ADHD has the same symptoms and there many are benefits to having it, which include some people being more creative, energetic and spontaneous.
• ADHD affects 2%-5% of all children. A third of children outgrow it by the time they're a teenager.