ADHD in the Media

CBC’s The Current, which I listen to daily, struck close to home for me this week with two stories that might seem unrelated to ADHD, but actually are perfect examples of the problem we continue to see with reporting on ADHD.

The first storey was an interview with writer John Semley where he questioned whether media should even be interviewing “anti-vaxxers”. He felt that media should not be giving a voice to those who were spreading untrue and scientifically unproven information causing confusion and ultimately harm to the public. The point was also made that by striving to give both sides of a story, journalists often misinform the public by allowing them to think that an issue is still being debated even when 97% of experts strongly support one side of the argument, as in the Global warming discussion.

The second was a discussion on an article published by the Toronto Star entitled “HPV vaccine Gardasil has a dark side, Star Investigation finds.” The guests felt that this story was just one more example of a news article on a public health issue that got it wrong due to overzealous reporters attempting to sell more papers and doing harm. Fortunately a rebuttal was quickly sent to the Star signed by over 60 doctors addressing the use of anecdotal stories based on correlation versus causation rather than scientific research. In fact world-wide research found that Gardasil has no dark side. The Star has conceded that the headline was misleading, but Anna Marie’s guest pointed out that it was really a case of poor medical journalism.

How does all of this fit in with ADHD?

For years now I have been voicing my view that media reporting on ADHD is very similar to their reporting on climate change. For decades, whenever a story or interview on ADHD occurred the media trotted out one or two naysayers with an agenda, to be interviewed alongside renowned medical ADHD experts. ADHD is not real, a conspiracy between physicians and pharmaceutical companies, due to bad parenting, too much sugar or TV, and a way for lazy parents and teaching to drug these children into compliance. We are forced to deal with this misinformation, which has long been disproven many, many times over every single day. We are also able to witness the damage it has caused families living with ADHD through stigma. But even more damaging is the confusion, doubt and fear it causes about the disorder, resulting in a hesitancy to accept the diagnosis, and reluctance to treat it.

In addition whenever something the least bit controversial, or something the media can make controversial, comes out about ADHD our phone rings off the hook, looking for a quote or a family that can be trotted out before the camera. But, trying to convey up-to-date medically scientifically based information through the media is almost impossible unless it too can be made to seem controversial.

Last year when Dr. Richard Saul published a book entitled, “ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorderthe media went crazy. The author must have been exhausted with the number of interviews and story after story was written. In fact the book mostly pointed out that other things can cause symptoms that look like ADHD and need to be ruled out as causes before a diagnosis should be made. Any ADHD clinician worth their salt would have responded with “obviously”. It certainly showed what a good marketer or publisher, who most likely chose the title, could accomplish. Yet again, controversy about ADHD is what the media is drawn to, no matter how stupid the study, article, or book is.

Would papers publish articles questioning the existence of depression, even when they are just opinion pieces? Of course not, they would be tarred and feathered. Yet ADHD which has just as much medical science behind it continues to be fuelled by controversy.

In closing, I must say that I give CBC credit for these two interviews. When interviewed by Anna Marie Tremonti myself a couple of years ago for a show called “Diagnosing ADHD: Are we getting it right?” I found the questions balanced with a goal of seeking good research backed information. Not all CBC stories have been this way, with one even leading to us writing in and complaining.

I also applaud the physicians who spoke out about this so quickly and eloquently. Unfortunately too many physicians working in the field of ADHD, probably justifiably, fear being misquoted and labelled as being in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies to come out and be so vocal.

Heidi Bernhardt

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