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Richard Bacon and his diagnosis of ADHD

by on 2018/03/30

This post was written by Margarita Kanevski and Sinead Rhodes

More and more celebrities are publically speaking out about their ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – diagnosis. ADHD is a common childhood disorder, figures vary across the U.K. but many reports converge on a figure of just under 1% of school-aged children diagnosed with the condition in the UK. Our previous blogs posts on this topic have included those about – a famous American musician, and Rory Bremner – a Scottish comedian and impressionist. This week another public figure caught the eye of media headlines – Richard Bacon, an English TV and radio presenter, recently diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 42. Bacon is probably best known for his high profile role in the children’s show Blue Peter from which he was dismissed following revelations about illegal substance use. In a recent interview with The Sun the TV star opened up how having ADHD symptoms affected him: “I was going out too late and drinking too much…” he said “It was causing pain and chaos and I was tired all the time.” Bacon went on to talk about how his life has improved since his recent diagnosis “I’m so much better, I’m sleeping a lot better, only drinking a couple of times a week and a lot less… If I’d been diagnosed in my twenties the cocaine debacle wouldn’t have happened.”

These thoughts reflect the general evidence in this area. Children with ADHD are at greater risk for substance abuse and dependence during adulthood than their typically developing peers. One compelling explanation for the relationship between ADHD and substance use has been that adolescents and adults with ADHD use drugs to help manage their mood and attention. Arguably, early diagnosis and intervention is crucial if we want to alleviate ADHD symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity and hopefully prevent, often damaging coping strategies such as use of illegal substances.

Media coverage such as Richard Bacon’s story is undoubtedly critical for raising awareness of how ADHD affects people’s lives and the importance of early diagnosis. Some misleading information however has crept into the media reporting.  Several outlets went on to mention that Bacon underwent a brain scan which revealed he had ADHD, but the condition cannot be diagnosed using a brain scan. ADHD is expressed differently from one individual to another and a brain scan cannot categorically tell whether a person actually meets criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. We often seen brain similarities on brain scans across different conditions. For example, low activity in the frontal area of the brain is often observed in individuals with ADHD, but is also present in individuals with dementia.

The diagnosis of ADHD involves an assessment by a clinician (usually a child psychiatrist but sometimes a paediatrician) who assesses whether the child meets criteria for ADHD using a formal checklist of symptoms that focus on inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Children with ADHD can be diagnosed with (1) inattentive, (2) hyperactive-impulsive or (3) combined types.  The child’s difficulties in these areas are evaluated against what is expected of children at that developmental stage. To answer this question clinicians also collect a range of information including the child’s behaviour (e.g. speech and temperament), medical history (e.g. mother’s pregnancy and labour). Importantly, they gather this information from parents about the child’s functioning at home and from teachers about the child’s behaviour and functioning at school. Those diagnosed with the inattentive subtype often find it hard to focus attention and follow instructions, get easily distracted and are typically described as forgetful, disorganised, and careless. Those diagnosed with the hyperactive-impulsive subtype have difficulty in engaging in a task, talk and move excessively, and are often restless and impulsive (i.e. act/speak without thinking).   The combined type is the most common type of ADHD and includes a mixture of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. It was also expressed in the media reporting that Bacon had been diagnosed with ‘two types’ of ADHD. It is unclear in relation to the above as to what was meant by that.

The bottomline is the continued coverage of celebrities’ diagnosis and experience of ADHD – individuals who the general public are often familiar with/admire/identify with – can be inspiring for those with ADHD as these well-known figures show examples of having an ADHD diagnosis and achieving success.  Several support groups and organisations include reference to celebrities like this on their webpages. These celebrities’ openness about the condition also helps to normalise the reality of having a diagnosis of ADHD.

From → Health, Psychology

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