Is ADHD a Mental Health Crisis, or a Cultural One?

Children in a classroomKate Lunau looks at the reasons behind the rapid rise in ADHD diagnosis rates for MacLeans:

Any visitor to North Carolina and California will know that the two states have their differences. The former is a typically “red state”; California is staunchly “blue.” Each has certain geographic, ethnic and cultural peculiarities, different demographic makeup, family income levels, and more. Yet perhaps the most surprising divide, one many wouldn’t expect, is that North Carolina appears to be a hotbed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD—especially when compared to California. A child who lived in North Carolina instead of California in 2007, according to U.S. academics Stephen Hinshaw and Richard Scheffler, was 2½ times more likely to be diagnosed.

In their forthcoming book The ADHD Explosion, Hinshaw and Scheffler—a psychologist and health economist, respectively, at the University of California at Berkeley—examine the causes behind the startling and rapid rise in diagnosis rates of ADHD, a neurobehavioural disorder that has somehow become epidemic. In the U.S., more than one in 10 kids has been diagnosed; more than 3.5 million are taking drugs to curb symptoms, from lack of focus to hyperactivity. While ADHD typically hits middle-class boys the hardest, rates among other groups are steadily rising, including girls, adults and minorities. Kids are being tested and diagnosed as young as preschool. In North Carolina, as many as 30 per cent of teenage boys are diagnosed. Scheffler says, “It’s getting scary.”

According to psychologist Enrico Gnaulati, who is based in Pasadena, Calif., ADHD is now “as prevalent as the common cold.” Various factors seem to be driving up the numbers, factors that extend from home to school to the doctor’s office and beyond. “So many kids have trouble these days,” says long-time ADHD researcher L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “I doubt it’s a change in our genetic pool. Something else is going on.”

A closer look at the case of North Carolina and California may be instructive. According to Hinshaw and Scheffler, North Carolinian kids between the ages of four and 17 had an ADHD diagnosis rate of 16 per cent in 2007. In California, it was just over six per cent. Kids with a diagnosis in North Carolina also faced a 50 per cent higher probability they’d get medication. After exhaustively exploring demographics, health care policies, cultural values and other possible factors, they landed on school policy as what Scheffler calls “the closest thing to a silver bullet.”…

[continues at MacLeans]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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46 Comments on "Is ADHD a Mental Health Crisis, or a Cultural One?"

  1. Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm |

    For myself as a kid I was distracted from learning in class not because I had a mental problem but because I wasn’t engaged or interested in what was going on. If I was in a class with a teacher that I liked I became transfixed. it’s not one or the other in order for me to have had ADHD for real I would have to have been distracted by things all the time. later on i was diagnosed with aspergers which is something i identify with but I’m on the extreme opposite end of the scale in the sense that i am deeply empathetic i don’t like contact sports and i don’t like roughhousing or boyish things. does that make me disabled or just different? and as far as schizophrenia goes,

    Hearing Voices in Accra and Chennai: How Culture Makes a Difference to Psychiatric Experiences –

    • Matt Staggs | Feb 28, 2014 at 3:24 pm |

      This looks like a video worth sharing with the larger disinfo audience. Do you mind if I share it and give you a shout-out?

  2. Go on, public education system. Keep teaching children as though they’re interchangeable information-absorbing units. Keep training them to take rote standardized tests instead of engaging and stimulating their brains. See how that works out.

  3. Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm |

    Spectacular film, THE HORSE BOY – .

  4. Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm |

    I’m really keen , as Lovecraft and Machen were, on the empathetic timbre within supernatural horror , and it takes a special kind of fucked up to as Lovecraft says “Respond to tappings from outside” . I am a fiend for daemonic dread. I grew up in the 1990s and adored shows like the X Files, Unsolved Mysteries, the Outer Limits… films like In The Mouth Of Madness .

    One of the most perplexing things to me as a child was “Most of my friends and family are turned off , prone to nightmares and so on.. literally scared by what I love the best. What the fuck is wrong with THEM ?” Clearly these things were made for my entertainment. And I couldn’t understand why I appreciated it so much and others didn’t. I would say that the partition between my subjective awareness and objective experience is razor thin.

    and to this day I write about daemonic-dread and its connection to ecstatic enthusiasm and it totally flies over the heads of people here.

    You’re the disabled ones.

  5. Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 2:55 pm |

    Be sure to catch this new S.Korean drama that just began airing . It’s called Bride Of The Century – .

  6. mannyfurious | Feb 27, 2014 at 3:08 pm |

    Why are those the only two choices? Why can’t it be a biological issue? I could be wrong (I almost always am) but I don’t think sitting still in a chair and focusing on boring shit for 8 hours/day under the emetic glow of fluorescent lighting with (these days) very little outside time or physical activity has been addressed by our evolutionary process.

    • Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 3:14 pm |

      I’d be more concerned about the kids not getting distracted

      • Why? If anything, they’re the lucky ones. They don’t need drugs to help them read and write good.

        • frederigoxcz305 | Feb 28, 2014 at 2:42 pm |

          my Aunty Julia got silver Volkswagen Beetle
          Convertible by working parttime off of a home computer… Look At This

  7. Rus Archer | Feb 27, 2014 at 3:24 pm |

    it’s not a crisis

    • Jin The Ninja | Feb 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm |

      in a media, sociological and pedagogical context it is.

      • But in a pharmacutical context its a gold rush. Don’t miss out on future gain$.

        • Jin The Ninja | Feb 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm |

          there is no doubt that pharmacological and western medical industrial complexes are at least 50% of the problem. but some blame must rest with parents drugging their kids for fingerpainting, teachers who require absolute rote obedience, education that demands test results be valued above all other pedagogical methods of eval. and the greater culture with its blind subservience to authority. and of course the media the promotes and reports on these issues without critical analysis.

          • Rus Archer | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:35 pm |

            isn’t adhd primarily a u.s. phenomenon?
            and don’t we work more hours than most other countries
            for less money
            less free time/holiday/vacation?
            and watch the most tv
            and eat the worst food
            you can’t separate mental health from culture
            because culture both defines and influences mental health

          • This seems to be a good time to mention that four day school weeks tend to improve both test scores and attendance.

          • That’s right, the parents are trying to do whats best for their kids and the culture says, Take this pill, give them one too!

          • Jin The Ninja | Feb 27, 2014 at 7:10 pm |

            exactly. we’re on the same page on this.

        • Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm |

          you don’t seem to be aware of the psychological damage these drugs cause . rates of psychosis have exploded and one of the main reasons is from kids being given powerful doses of anti depressants over the course of many years

      • Rus Archer | Feb 27, 2014 at 4:33 pm |

        not in the dictionary

  8. “I doubt it’s a change in our genetic pool. Something else is going on.”

    Of course. Could it have anything to do with schools getting extra funding for students with this kind of diagnosis? Maybe with the increase in students in a classroom the teacher has to teach to the middle while the bored kids squirm? Or, maybe it’s just big pharma trying to make a buck. Next on deck: an increase in bi-polar diagnoses for children–gotta keep that money rolling in.

    • What is happening is an arms race to beat the next student to get into colleges, etc. When everyone is taking cognitive enhancing drugs, you’re gonna fall behind in the race if you abstain. These drugs are fantastic and safe, if used properly and monitored by a doctor. The Adult Rat Race is just catching on to what these stimulates can do to save labor and increase personal productivity. So we should expect more diagnosis and a wider acceptance in society for the use of these enhancers.

      • They don’t really know what happens to developing brains on these drugs; what the long term impacts are. Doctors can hardly keep up with the plethora of drugs on the market and sometimes the doctor is the problem. Ritalin might be safe for recreational use by adults whereas regimented daily doses of different drugs for children are not.
        Our school tried this on our kid in kindergarten (yes, kindergarten) and I told the teacher that she wasn’t hanging that scarlet letter on my kid for the next twelve years and pulled him out of school returning him the following autumn. That was eight years ago and he’s doing great–all A’s and B’s and the “diagnosis” was never raised again. Because his birthday is at the end of October, he just wasn’t ready for kindergarten: a year later, he was good to go. ADHD is over-diagnosed and leads to the over-drugging of our children.

        • I don’t think anyone is talking about recreational ADHD drug use in adults. I’m saying Adults get Adderal/Ritalin etc. in order to be better at their professions. Football players take amphetamines before the Big Game. Wall Streets take it to stay focused on heavy trading days. Journalist use it to stay up all night to write. Basically, any profession that requires intense focus is going to have some level of narcotic use within it’s ranks, both sanctioned and unsanctioned.

          Now, as for the kids being put on these drugs and their longterm effects, the evidence is not what you claim it to be. Every story on ADHD asserts that attention deficit disorder is over diagnosed based on nothing raw numbers of prescriptions. But if you take the number of American who have these drugs and compare them to the assessed number of ADHD-effected people, you’ll see that it’s actually UNDER DIAGNOSED. No one knows the true number of people who have this neurological problem, but it’s estimated to be about 5% of the pop (17 million people). Also, long-term, properly managed amphetamine use has been shown to cause no long-term negative effects on users.

          These drugs do work. They greatly improve the quality of life for people with ADHD. Many, many adults who were never diagnosed, or were misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety, often turn to alcohol, anti-depressants and street drugs in order to deal with a malfunctioning brain. It’s not just about getting good grades for kids, it’s about helping people live functioning lives. Often, when an adult is diagnosed with ADHD, given the drugs, their other consumptions immediately fall away. They are able to think clearly for the first time, they are able to communicate and maintain relationships, and they can begin to repair the damage after years of getting by being ‘stupid’ or weird compared to everyone else. Please don’t discount the true benefits of this medication because of your own personal fear of branding your child a weirdo, or whatever.

  9. Culture is mental.

  10. Cultural. Next!

  11. BuzzCoastin | Feb 27, 2014 at 4:20 pm |

    the present methods of edumacation
    are deeply rooted in the 16th century
    at time very technology different from the present
    school is now too slow and too paper based

    money flows with adhd diagnosis
    to schools, doctors & pig pharma

    NC have expectations based on their 19th century pov
    that HighTek Cali has already worked through

    • Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 4:58 pm |

      Thank you . You hit the nail on the head. Kids have access to extremely high quality education, offered for free by websites like and . there is no reason why kids shouldn’t be encouraged to learn on their own at very high levels if they have the enthusiasm to apply themselves. the internet has made education as a series of rites of passage divided by age and spread out over an entire kid’s life obsolete. why should they be forced to learn that way? they have access to entire University lectures.

      • BuzzCoastin | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:22 pm |

        The Child-driven Education
        about kids teaching themselves using the internet

        I studied permaculture using the internet
        I amassed a 60GB library
        watch thousands of hours of videos
        read dozens of books
        (I think I spent around $20 total for educational materials)
        after 2 years of study &
        some small scale experimentation
        I learned enough to establish a permaculture food forest
        in Hawaii
        on a property with virtually no soil
        using resources mostly on site
        using techniques I learned from:
        Mollison, Lawton, Holzer, Fukuoku, Toensmeier, Heminway, YouTube, et al

        • Rus Archer | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm |

          we have no reason to learn education until we get over this jobs thing
          you don’t need to know shit to get one
          now, if you need to know how to take care of yourself, think, survive outside the confines of this stopidity, you might need to learn how to reason

          i forget who i was listening to/reading, but someone said something about back in the good ole days
          by the time they were, i think 12, a lakota kid already knew everything they needed to know to survive completely independently
          THAT’s education

          • BuzzCoastin | Feb 27, 2014 at 7:53 pm |

            there’s a difference between
            edumacation & learning

            edumacation is programming
            learnkng is the satisfaction found in curiosity’s satiation

          • Cortacespedes | Feb 27, 2014 at 9:58 pm |

            I believe you were reading Black Elk.

            But the (Whites) put us in these square boxes.
            Our power is gone: we are dying, for the power is not with us anymore.
            You can look at our boys and see how it is with us. When we were living by the power of the circle in the way we should, boys were men at 12 or 13 years of age. But now it takes them much longer to mature.

            Well, it is as it is. We are prisoners of war while we are waiting here. But there is another world.

        • Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:34 pm |

          that’s awesome man. and what do most people who go through school accomplish? nothing.

          • Rus Archer | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:36 pm |

            for me, school was just a 12 year long sidetrack from getting paid or doing anything interesting

        • jasonpaulhayes | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:59 pm |

          Good for you Brother, my “Victory Garden” is looking pretty good too.

          I read some enlightening journals a while back from Cuban families trying to survive on their rooftop terrace gardens… you get the idea, when times get tough the tough get going !

          • BuzzCoastin | Feb 27, 2014 at 7:49 pm |

            The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
            is one of my favorite vidz
            permaculture people from Australia got involved there

  12. Daniel Gill | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:13 pm |

    I agree with BuzzCoastin but I’ll focus on English literature studies as an example since that is what I study. In High School, you’re not taught or even told about literary criticism . You’re not taught to read a story and then take out books from the library entirely about that story and author , not just biographical details but arguments from Freudian analysis, Marxism, Gnosticism, and so on.. kids are expected to just regurgitate the material and write a response with what the teacher expects. When kids reach University, they realize that that entire span of their life learning English in that way was simply totally wrong. So why aren’t kids taught the real way to appreciate and criticize literature?

    I’ll be totally honest, and what I am about to say is totally true :

    I was diagnosed with aspergers, partly because in English classes I would respond in my essays by going on tangents. Now, in University, going on tangents is my job as a literary critic.

    This is plainly ridiculous.

    There is no reason why they shouldn’t be expanding school libraries on the level of university libraries, connected to university libraries, and encourage kids to conduct research in libraries paying careful attention to hermeneutics and the history of ideas. teach them how to write a thesis, form a page of citations, etc. if they’re in school for most of their childhood lives then they should be taught to do this.

    • BuzzCoastin | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:35 pm |

      before the printing press
      people with books were few and far between
      you had to go to where the books were

      the printing press made books more avaiable
      by the time of Shakespeare
      but universities had the biggest collections
      so you went there to read in a subject

      by the industrial revolution
      wee were awash in books
      but literacy declined as the ability to read grew
      schools were places to colate information
      and turn learning into a factory

      ivy & elite universities became power centers
      as electric technology increased & reading decreased

      the only reason for matriculation
      is to meet people & get working papers
      you can literally teach yourself anything your interested in

  13. The state of education around the world is horrifyingly atrociously bad . It’s a classist system designed to make people literally stupid unless they have the cash and privilege to be taught real things. Teachers at low levels of education should be ashamed .

  14. jasonpaulhayes | Feb 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm |

    Not paying attention or being preoccupied is a healthy, natural reaction to a propagandized, low watt education. It’s called “Controlled Opposition” when you drug and therefore snuff out the mind that moves.


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