The Media’s Constant Cry That ADHD Isn’t Real is Deliberately Ableist Misinformation

White middle-aged men gatekeeping ADHD is not new, but the floods seem to have opened over the past week and every outlet is suddenly crying out about this “epidemic”.

Except it’s not an epidemic, is it? Because ADHD isn’t an illness, and it’s not true that everyone is suddenly qualifying for a diagnosis.

Most of these articles talk about ADHD being the latest “trendy mental health condition” – but it’s not a mental health condition, showing from the very first sentence that they have no idea. 

Of course, we have seen an uptake in diagnosis. It comes from a variety of factors – ones that make perfect sense, unless you’re trying to whip up outrage and misinformation in the Mail. 

We know that marginalised people have been chronically underdiagnosed with neurodivergences like ADHD and autism, and that these represent a large amount of those seeking diagnosis at this point in time.

And I’m sure this weekend’s slew of “ADHD isn’t real” articles has nothing to do with the parliamentary debate this week… right?

I was one of many who discovered their ADHD during the pandemic. Six years after my autism diagnosis, and six years of expressing to doctors how busy was brain was (“it’s autism-associated anxiety and depression!)

I spent my second year of university chained to my desk, totally unable to do my work.

I was experiencing executive dysfunction, internal hyperactivity, emotional dysregulation and more. I had been feeling this way for years, particularly at sixth form when there was less structure, but the way the pandemic took any semblance of routine or real life meant it all came to forefront and was less masked.

These articles are predictable, now. They tend to go one of two ways – “beware of the TikTok generation!” or “private doctors are diagnosing everyone!”. 

Waiting lists for ADHD diagnosis can be anywhere from two to seven years in the UK. Many of us are actively encouraged to go private if we can, and others go through Right to Choose – where the NHS funds a private diagnosis.

So, I’m sure diagnoses being made are overwhelmingly private. But you don’t go through the process – one with hours of exhausting self-advocacy, hours of admin, and where you have to continually talk about your trauma – unless you’re pretty damn sure that you need to. 

The idea that doctors are diagnosing everyone and anyone is deliberate misinformation. 

We wait years, beg to be listened to, fill in endless inaccessible forms before we can even sit in that chair. Even then, you have to go through what feels like a never-ending assessment discussing every bit of your past, evaluating all your worst days and difficulties.

Some journalists are insisting that surely everyone must have these traits! Who doesn’t lose concentration sometimes? 

Except – ADHD diagnosis has never been about traits that other people can’t have. We aren’t aliens. The point is the level of impact on our daily lives – the way traits are long-term and have a significant effect, and are present since childhood. 

To pretend that everyone is experiencing that is gaslighting those people into believing they don’t need support.

And yes, TikTok is having an impact. But so has Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr. Blaming a platform just because it’s full of Gen Z’s is hardly evidence – and is it any surprise that ADHDers are overrepresented on a social media platform that is essentially a dopamine slot machine? 

There is an issue of TikTok trivialising certain ADHD traits, I won’t pretend there isn’t. But people who are discovering themselves isn’t inherently a problem – especially when the school system certainly isn’t going to do it for them.

Besides, a few teenagers saying “maybe I have ADHD then!” in a few comment sections when they don’t isn’t the downfall of the NHS.

One of the latest articles made a similar argument to this – saying the uptake in ADHD diagnoses is overstretching services and that we need “less awareness”. 

If an increase in neurodivergent people seeking diagnosis is the downfall of the healthcare system of one of the richest countries in the world, maybe that should be blamed on the government instead? 

Services have been overstretched before this increase – that’s the product of a system that has been continually decimated and underfunded by a government that doesn’t care whether you’ve got ADHD, a broken leg, or pneumonia. 

Demonising those who are seeking support rather than those slashing funding is misguided at best, and intentionally dangerous and ableist at worst. 

If you are someone who wants to seek a diagnosis but these articles are putting you off, remember that they are written by people with no lived experience and no stake in the topic. The pedaling of click-bait ableism does not take away your realities. 

Finally, to my fellow ADHDers – you are valid, and your struggles are real. You deserve the help and support you need. 

We are not scapegoats for a system that governments have intentionally broken down.

If like me you are sick of the constant ableism in the media, Unwritten founder and Editor Rachel Charlton-Dailey is running a campaign to expose media ableism and get everyone to report ableism to IPSO called #MediaAbleismWatch

Last week IPSO told Rachel there wasn’t a remit for guidelines on reporting disability, so let’s give them one. Rachel has created a guide to complaining here.

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