Media reporting has a huge influence on public attitudes towards mental health, and particularly towards ADHD.

When dealing with a topic already entrenched with stigma and misunderstanding, fair and accurate journalism is essential.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation’s Editors’ Code of Practice states that:

  1. The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
  2. Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Reporting on ADHD in the news

  • Consider consulting adults with ADHD as part of your research, not just as case studies. They are often experts on the condition (a natural result of living with it for your entire life)… 

When you are interviewing someone with ADHD as part of your piece, you should consider the following points:

  • Is the person genuinely prepared to be interviewed?
  • Think about where to hold the interview. Meeting in a busy, public café can be daunting and distracting and may make it hard for them to get their message across clearly.
  • Give them an idea of the questions you are going to ask beforehand so they can plan their answers and consider the best way to share their personal experiences.
  • When it comes to writing up the interview, use the person’s own words wherever possible to represent their experiences.
  • Let the person know about the editing processes your story is likely to go through before it is published or broadcast. Warn them if it is likely to be dropped completely.
  • If you intend to emphasise a particular angle or sensationalise (in a headline for example) then tell the person and get their consent first.
  • Give your case study copy approval or read back approval wherever possible.

Including ADHD as part of your storyline in soaps and dramas

  • Try to make ADHD depictions relatively positive or at least realistic by showing both the strengths and the weaknesses of ADHD, but also recognising the validity of the disorder as a legitimate disability that causes substantial impairment to those with a diagnosis in the UK.  
  • Don’t portray people with ADHD as drug-seeking or violent, or as students trying to get ahead, or as ‘naughty’ attention-seekers or spoilt children.
  • To make a character plausible and accurate, speak to as many people who have ADHD as possible. They are the best consultants available and most want to see accuracy on screen. And they usually have really interesting life stories (probably because of all the risk-taking), which they’re usually happy to share with you if you need a little inspiration.
  • Listen to people’s stories and experiences. Some script-writers have written entire storylines about mental health problems based on one conversation.
  • Think about your camera shots. People with ADHD can feel isolated, hopeless, helpless, ashamed, extremely frustrated, on edge, patronised, misunderstood, invisible or the opposite- unable to fit in or blend into a crowd. This can be reflected through close up shots, POV shots and so on.
  • Give the storyline enough time to develop. It is common that ADHD symptoms can seem ordinary if you don’t see how pervasive and unavoidably destructive they are over longer periods of time. If possible, please ensure this is evident with a message that builds over time, rather than developing and exploding in the space of one episode.
  • Think about how other characters react. Stigma and discrimination is itself a horrible part of having ADHD. Can you portray how damaging these attitudes are, or show any empathy from others?
  • Consider including narrative focusing on the damaging stigma a character with ADHD faces.

Stigma is a huge part of having ADHD as it’s almost impossible to avoid:

“findings from nationally representative data sets, experimental investigations, surveys, and qualitative studies indicate that individuals of all ages who exhibit symptoms of ADHD are the recipients of substantial stigmatization”

…and it has a massive impact on our lives:

“patients suffering from ADHD are at high risk to be confronted with stigma, prejudices, and discrimination”

“The contribution of stigma associated with ADHD can be conceptualized as an underestimated risk factor, affecting treatment adherence, treatment efficacy, symptom aggravation, life satisfaction, and mental well-being of individuals affected by ADHD”

Taken from our FAQ page. More information about the nature and causes of ADHD stigma is available here.

  • Get expert advice from ADDISS and UKAAN (registered ADHD charities and experts) to ensure that the symptoms you are showing on screen are relevant and realistic.
  • PLEASE don’t use ADHD just to try and explain bad or strange behaviour or to insert a funny stereotype.

How to report on medication

The way that medication matters are reported can have a direct impact on the prevalence of ADHD stigma, so it’s essential to take care when reporting individual cases or foreign statistics. Here at #AttentionUK we’re always happy to provide you with accurate information about ADHD medication. We have plenty of information about medication already in our FAQ section, but if you have any specific questions or don’t have time to read it through you can just send us an email using our contact page.

How to report on prevalence and diagnostic statistics

ADHD is diagnosed much more often nowadays because more people are aware of it and more likely to recognise it. However, commenting on increased numbers of diagnoses or medication prescription rates can be unhelpful as it can support myths about overdiagnosis and overmedicating, and perpetuates stigma if you don’t explain it clearly. Please refer to our statistics and information about diagnostic rates if you are going to write about this topic – and contact us for review, when reporting on diagnostic rates.

Images in the media

Stigmatising or stereotype-enforcing pictures can be just as damaging as words when used to depict stories about mental health. Sometimes positive content can be overlooked because of the supporting picture. Please refrain from using imagery involving disruptive white schoolboys wherever possible when reporting on ADHD. Please always strive to present a wide and diverse demographic of examples including women and girls with ADHD, adults with ADHD and people of colour with ADHD.

Key messages:

Remember you have the power to help improve understanding and attitudes towards ADHD by:

  • Providing accurate information about the disorder.
  • Encouraging people in distress to seek help, for instance by providing helpline information (the ADDISS helpline number is 020 8952 2800) and signposting them to the AADD-UK website.
  • Breaking down myths about ADHD, encouraging openness and including the voices of people who have ADHD themselves.
  • Remembering that anyone can have undiagnosed ADHD. They are not ‘completely separate’ from you even if you don’t know anyone with a diagnosis right now – it could easily be your child, a friend, a relative or a colleague that you’re talking about.

How we can help

If you’re not sure about your reporting, please contact us for assistance. We can offer a variety of support, from advice on the correct use of language and tone, to in-depth consultation on stories. Some of the services we offer include:

  • Consultation and advice for news stories and documentaries including fact-checking and research.
  • Putting you in touch with media volunteers who have direct experience of mental health problems.
  • Signposting you towards information or other relevant organisations.
  • Providing online information and guidance on best practice for anyone working in the media

References:
Mind’s media guidelines,the Time To Change media guidelines and the Samaritans guidelines on Reporting on Suicide were all used as models for this document.