Recent Huffington Post Article on ADHD of Concern to CADDAC

Note from Heidi Bernhardt, CADDAC President

I am sharing this incident with you because the CADDAC board and I personally continue to be concerned about how information on ADHD is sometimes presented in the media. Unfortunately, poor, even if well-meaning, studies and their questionable findings are being reported, using by-lines meant to be eye catching and memorable. I understand that a reporter may feel that they are only regurgitating what a researcher puts out there, but when they report on an ADHD study that they are not qualified to evaluate and do not reach out to those who are, misinformation on ADHD just keeps increasing. And using headlines and personal stories to sensationalize and misinform just makes it worse. This harms families who are already stigmatized by all the misunderstanding and myths that continue to abound about ADHD. CADDAC and CADDRA are sometimes contacted by journalists seeking out ADHD experts to evaluate and comment on a new study prior to reporting on it. This is how it should be done.

I would be very interested in hearing your comments on this topic. You can send your comments to me at resources@caddac.ca

 Huffington Post Article

On December the 7th the Huffington Post published an article titled, Mom’s Postpartum Depression Linked To ADHD In Kids, Australian Study Finds ‘Parenting hostility’ is connected to a child’s eventual diagnosis or symptoms”. This was first brought to my attention on December the 8th when I was copied on a letter sent to the Huffington Post by a psychologist and contacted by a second psychologist concerned about the messages in this article.

In her complaint to the Huffington Post the psychologist stated that the by-line was,

incredibly damaging to parents who are parenting children with “invisible disabilities,” especially ADHD, which has already been so heavily stigmatized in the media.”

She went on to add that the byline

“… makes the results appear causal, when they are not, but it is also entirely misleading. Only several paragraphs in do you finally get to the critical point made by the researchers: “We suspect that children’s challenging behaviour early in life may be connected to mother’s postnatal mental health.” Why not lead with that critical information? Why not avoid contributing to the vast amount of misinformation and misunderstanding that is already making it so painful for families of children with this neurodevelopmental disability?”

Although the article was edited and the title and by-line changed to “Study On Postpartum Depression And ADHD Stresses Need For Maternal Health Support, Moms shouldn’t blame themselves, researchers say” by the Huffington Post within hours after receiving the complaint, I and others remain concerned about this article. The article you now see on the Huffington post if not the original article.

Here is a comment by a parent that was sent to the Huffington Post that I was copied on.

“I see that there are some areas of the article which state that mothers should not be made to feel blamed for their child’s ADHD, and that a child’s ADHD may contribute to depression in the parent. However, the title of the article, certain statements within it, and the direct quotes from Melissa Doody, paint an entirely different picture. These imply that depression in the mother CAN indeed cause ADHD in a child. Anyone who skims through your headlines or through this article will come away with that message…I feel sorry for Melissa Doody, since she clearly believes that she is responsible for her child’s ADHD, when she is absolutely not. Spreading her self-deprecating statements around is not helpful, and is simply irresponsible.”

When I personally contacted the author of the article it was suggested to me that there was no problem with the reporting but that rather I and the psychologist who complained simply did not like the information the study highlighted. To test this theory I reached out to some other medical professionals to get their impression of this article. Several pointed out that they had significant concerns about this article and the messages it was sending. One physician stated that articles like this made her blood boil. Several mentioned the fact that fathers had been completely left out of the equation and that this was another case of blaming the mother for the child’s problems.

I consider this another version of the ‘Blame the mother syndromes’ that were taught to me in med school.  I could argue quite passionately that the dysregulated infant who will later in childhood be diagnosed with ADHD is in fact the cause of the mother’s postnatal depression.”

And

“However, this also brings me to my other major concern with both the article and the study itself: it is hideously gendered, and contributes to further mother-blaming in the world of mental health. There is no mention of fathers at all, and yet “parenting” is the term used, where what they’re really looking at is ‘mothering.’”

Upon examining the actual study professionals commented that,

“…critical confounding variables are unaccounted for (i.e. most notably, the genetic links between ADHD, anxiety, and mood disorders), are all weak, at best.”

And

“Also important is to note that they did not control for cigarette or alcohol use during pregnancy or pre or perinatal birth complications when exploring the association between maternal post natal mental health and offspring symptoms of ADHD.”

A few other issues with the study were noted; children were not necessarily diagnosed with ADHD but rather reported to have ADHD by their parents; depression was not evaluated as to whether it was an on-going depression or a postpartum depression; mothers were not screened for ADHD.

I received other comments questioning the validity of this study’s finding and expect to receive more in the future, but since I am still receiving correspondence on this article from concerned parents and professionals I felt that it was important to comment on it sooner rather than later.

If necessary, I will write a follow-up on the actual study itself once it has been further analyzed.

Again, please feel free to let me know what you feel about this issue at resources@caddac.ca

Heidi Bernhardt

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