This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
Media Myths about ADHD by Elle Skelton
In today’s world, the internet and social media seem to be the primary resource of news for many people. We are subject to just about anyone and everyone that wants to share their thoughts, scientifically backed or not, to the world; is it any no wonder there are so many misconceptions about mental health and their associated disorders? Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, has been heavily talked about in the media for two decades now, and subsequently large amounts of false information about the disorder have been published and discussed, online and off.
There are numerous lists of ADHD myths that education groups are continually trying to squash. One is that ADHD is believed not to be a real disorder. A general description of ADHD like symptoms was first introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, second edition (DSM-II) in 1968. Although the described disorder has changed in its diagnostic criteria over time, it is a disorder that millions of people suffer from starting in childhood and continuing on through adulthood. So much so that the prevalence of children with ADHD is 5% while the prevalence in adults with ADHD is 2.5%.
Another myth is that there is a direct link in ADHD and its heritability. Although there are articles that support that there is a genetic connection to ADHD, there is not enough evidence to support that this is accurate for all, or even many people. Preterm delivery, significantly low birth rate, and maternal smoking are potential contributors to ADHD.
Additionally, it is thought that ADHD only affects boys and not girls. This myth may have been developed due to a lower percentage of females that are diagnosed with ADHD and, thus, possibly a lack of awareness. The DSM-5 states twice as many males are diagnosed with ADHD than females. Females generally exhibit inattention behaviors rather than hyperactive behaviors and could be overlooked when it comes to appropriate diagnosis of ADHD. The percentage of females diagnosed with ADHD is on the rise and parents and teachers are better equipped to identify ADHD symptoms that are typically seen in both males and females.
Furthermore, some people may think that it is their child’s diet that is the cause for them to have ADHD. Blame has been placed on fatty foods, high levels of sugar, and even food additives. Parents have rushed to put their children on no-sugar diets or frantically checking labels for any food additives that their child may be consuming in hopes of eliminating certain elements in their diet will diminish symptoms. However, this is not the case; several studies have squashed myths that sugar intake, additives, or diets are a cause of ADHD. Although, it is helpful to teach children the importance of healthy eating and living an active lifestyle, they are not specifically linked to hyperactivity and/or inattention disorders.
Some parents are even being blamed personally for their child’s ADHD due to their parenting style. Statements of bad parenting can include lack of education or attention, ignoring problematic behavior, and so on. Sadly, many parents may blame themselves for their children’s academic performance or peer relationship issues as they pertain to ADHD symptoms. In fact there are many elements outside their control contributing to their children’s ADHD. Not to mention the etiology of this disorder is not well understood. Again, there is not enough scientific evidence to state and support a cause and effect relationship with ADHD. Parents should not be blamed in the diagnosis of their child’s/ children’s ADHD. However, parental training and involvement are a crucial part in behavioral treatments for ADHD individuals that could potentially help their child long term, heading into adulthood.
Another myth is that only children suffer from ADHD. Although, there is more awareness and diagnosis of ADHD and whom it affects, adults are still thought to be underdiagnosed overall for ADHD. Currently, prevalence for children with ADHD is about 5%, while adult prevalence rates for ADHD is about 2.5%. The DSM-5 has added adult criteria in its diagnosis, rather than putting it in an unspecified ADHD diagnosis. Thus, acknowledgement when it comes to adults and ADHD has increased. One of the criteria with diagnosis is that for hyperactivity and inattention, children would need to meet at least six criteria points while late adolescents and adults (age 17 and over) only need to meet five. Moreover, some think that adults can “grow out of ADHD” and that is not the case. Rather than “growing out of ADHD” adults can alter their environment and occupational choices to help their ADHD symptoms.
Another misconception about ADHD is that children that are on medications tend to abuse drugs as they get older. Although there has been illegal distribution and social use with ADHD medication in college, especially around midterm and finals, many students that are actually diagnosed with ADHD are using their drugs appropriately. It could be that that those students that do not have a need for ADHD medications are looking for and additional help in their studies while at college. Drug abuse at any age and with any drug poses a threat; it is not linked to specific disorders and their associated medication. In fact, in one study it was shown that up to 90% of those teenagers that were prescribed ADHD medications chose to stop taking the drugs by their senior year of high school.
Lastly, there is an overwhelming amount of children that are put on ADHD medication. Although medication can help sedate hyperactivity and help with concentration, medication is not an end all-be all for treatment. Studies have shown that medication are a fast acting and are short term fix, while behavioral treatment or even a combination of medication and behavioral treatment produce long term effects. Behavioral treatments are applied in all areas of the individual’s life. This includes parent training, classroom and academic interventions, and recreational and peer interventions.
There are many more myths about ADHD and the individuals impacted on the internet, social media, and other outlets. Although media can be a great source for connecting with others in discussion of mental health and its related disorders, people should be careful about what they read and how that information is affecting others with or without ADHD.