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ADHD in the news: Rory Bremner

by on 2017/04/25

Rory Bremner, the well known impressionist and comedian, has been in the media over the last few days in relation to his diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The media coverage has come about because of a Horizon programme ‘ADHD and me with Rory Bremner’ which is on tonight  (Tuesday 25th April) on BBC2 at 9pm. So how has the media handled coverage of this programme and the topic of ADHD in particular?

How did the media handle coverage of ADHD?  

In general, the media has been fairly accurate in their characterisation of the disorder with just a few inaccuracies creeping in. The Daily Mail inaccurately referred to one of the medications for ADHD – methylphenidate – as ‘used to be known as Ritalin’ and the Mirror also refers to it as ‘formerly known as Ritalin’. ‘Ritalin’ is, in fact, one of the brand names of methylphenidate – in the same way that ‘Pepsi’ is a brand name for a cola drink.

The Mail also refers to 3% of adults and 5% of children being diagnosed with ADHD in the UK. It’s not clear where these figures came from. A group of researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School looked at figures, including ADHD diagnoses from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which is a sample of more than 19,000 children. Of this sample representative of the UK population, a total of 1.4% of parents reported their children had a diagnosis of ADHD, much lower than the suggested 5%. ADHD is generally considered to be under-diagnosed in the UK by most experts in this area, with the number diagnosed lower than 5%. For example, Eric Taylor, Emeritus Professor at Kings College London and a retired child psychiatrist, a leading UK expert in the area of ADHD, has commented in an article on the topic of diagnosis that ‘I agree over-diagnosis and over-medication are a problem in the US and Australia, but I think we under-diagnose and under-treat here in the U.K.’. This highlights how important it is to counter inaccurate statistics on ADHD in the media, and to prevent these entering popular thinking.

We have written several posts in the past about misrepresentation of ADHD in the media. These issues have included adult ADHD, diagnosis of ADHD, parenting and ADHD, medication and ADHD, circumcision and ADHD, environmental factors in pregnancy and ADHD,  steroid use in premature babies and ADHD, and video use in ADHD. Fortunately, the media reporting and discussion of the Horizon programme has been mainly accurate. The Sun coverage also highlighted an important issue that is not commonly spoken about – that of the high rate of ADHD in the prison population.

Importance of this coverage and programme in addressing misconceptions

ADHD is arguably one of the disorders that is associated with the most misconceptions within the media and by the public at large. These misconceptions include the thinking that ADHD is a childhood disorder and doesn’t affect adults. The discussion of Rory Bremner’s diagnosis in adulthood helps correct that myth. The NHS advice that “the symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who are diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems” reflects the conclusions of the bulk of the literature.

Many misconceptions surround stimulant medication. These include thinking that medication acts by slowing down the child or adult in general, which taken to an extreme view has clearly negative implications. Actually we know from research that stimulant medication slows down performance when a task is difficult but speeds up performance when a task is relatively easy and quick responding is encouraged, thereby acting to self-regulate the child or adult with ADHD.

ADHD and support available in the U.K.

ADHD is very real for the families affected by it. In the UK, the section of the Department of Health that provides advice and guidance on health – the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) – recognise the difficulties faced by families affected. They have stated: “The consequences of severe ADHD for children, their families and for society can be very serious. Children can develop poor self-esteem, emotional and social problems and their educational attainment is frequently severely impaired. The pressure on families can be extreme.” ADDISS (Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service) is a national UK charity that provides information and resources to families, teachers and health professionals affected by ADHD.



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  1. We are really looking forward to the programme tonight – note that it’s on later (11.15pm) in Scotland.

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