The subject of the lecture is a widely popular one at the moment. The lecture not only attracted medical students, for whom it was actually organised, but also mothers, non-students, people suffering from ADHD, people related to people with ADHD, and people who don’t have ADHD.

More likely to be diagnosed as suffering from a disorder

These days, doctors are too keen to diagnose people as having a specific disorder if they present certain abnormal behaviour, said philosopher and sociologist of science Trudy Dehue. Researchers play a part in this trend, for instance because the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which was released in 2014, contains many more traits characteristic of disorders such as ADHD and depression than the previous version, meaning people are now more likely to be told they suffer from such disorders. The media, too, are prone to draw easy conclusions on people’s mental health because they did not fully understand the scientific research they read about.

Broadened definitions

Dehue showed a few news stories in which it was falsely claimed that people have disorders. For instance, NOS released the following news story in 2017: ‘One fourth of all people have a brain disorder, often invisible’. According to Dehue, this is not true; it is impossible to analyse such things by means of brain scans.

She emphasised that the definitions of disorders are broadened by scientists too often, and that there is absolutely no need for these scientists to do so. One of the examples she mentioned was ADHD, where this happens quite regularly. Many people are diagnosed with ADHD, even though quite a few of them don’t actually have it.

‘Poor concentration’

Bachelor of Communication student Emily attended the lecture because she thinks she may have ADHD. “I’m not particularly hyperactive, but I do have trouble remaining focused on my work. Someone playing loud music, the girl next to me in the library getting up to go to the toilet, the sound of wind beating against the windows – all these things will keep me from focusing on my work. It seems to me I’m more easily distracted than other people.”

‘It’s great that I may not have a disorder after all, but then what is wrong with me?’

Student Emily can't concentrate very well

“The lecture was an eye-opener for me,” Emily went on to say. “So now I know I may not suffer from ADHD after all. The downside is that that conclusion is not helpful to me in any way. It’s great that I may not have a disorder after all, but then what is wrong with me, and more importantly, how do I solve my issues? There was a student at the lecture just now who said that sometimes it’s easier to be told that you have a disorder, as it gives you a better understanding of your situation and a solution can be found. I kind of agree with that too. I might be prescribed some form of medication, or training,” said Emily, sighing.

Very creative

Having poor concentration is annoying, but having ADHD does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. The lecture was attended by a mother of three children (one of whom is a current EUR student, while another is a former EUR student) who said that her entire family has ADHD. “To us it’s never been much of a problem. But when we have guests over, they are driven bonkers by the fact that we are having four conversations at the same time. My daughter is actually very creative because of her ADHD. She tried out two degrees here and completed her bachelor degree in maths elsewhere. Now she teaches at a school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood and comes up with all sorts of games.”

Cause and effect

A clinical psychology student decided to attend the lecture because he often deals with the definition of disorders in his degree programme. “Trudy Dehue really got me thinking about how we define certain disorders. What was most interesting to me was her saying that we have begun to see too many things as signs of a disorder. As a result, people are now told, ‘You are very boisterous because you have ADHD’, rather than ‘You are very boisterous, you may have ADHD’. I was particularly fascinated by this cause-and-effect issue.”