ADD/ADHD in North America

Chosen peer review article: Timmi, Sammi ADHD is best understood as a cultural construct; The British Journal of Psychiatry (2004)

          It is difficult to describe a condition as culture bound without a lot of criticism from the culture it is tied up in. Attention deficit disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD & ADHD) were unheard of before the 20th century (History). According to the article I chose “There is still some debate in the literature whether Attention-Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity (ADHD) is best conceptualized as a biological disorder or if it is best understood as a cultural construct.” (Rhode et al.) ADD/ADHD has varying biological, cultural, and individual dimensions. Its evaluation/treatment also varies in different cultures. I will discuss these things and more.

          There is a biology to everything, even culture bound syndromes. Different nations and ethnicities may have very similar or even very different cultures but their similarities may present similar factors that create a certain illness/behavior. According to research, brain scans of people with ADD/ADHD have similarities that are different from those not diagnosed with the disease, but not everyone diagnosed is given brain scans (Malloff). The frontal lobes, the area responsible for executive functions such as “attention to tasks, focus concentration, make good decisions, plan ahead, and learn and remember what we have learned” is impaired (Maloff). Current treatment is generally amphetamines which stimulate the frontal lobe. Alternative therapies include: diet changes, behavioral therapy, counseling, family therapy, and biofeedback (History).

          My chosen article states that “immaturity of children is a biological fact, but the ways in which this immaturity is understood and made meaningful is a fact of culture.” There are many personal and ecological factors that negatively influence the mental health of children such as the loss of extended family/family support, pressure on schools, academic pressure, a breakdown in the moral authority of adults, disciplinary confusion, hyperactive family life, and a competitive economic market that value certain behavioral norms. “Throw in the profit-dependent pharmaceutical industry and a high-status profession looking for new roles and we have the ideal cultural preconditions for the birth and propagation of the ADHD construct.” (Timmi)

Works Cited

Timmi, Sammi; ADHD is best understood as a cultural construct; The British Journal of Psychiatry (2004)

History of ADHD;

Rhode et al.; Rohde, L. , Szobot, C., Guilherme P., Marcelo, S., Silvia, M., & Silzá T Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in a Diverse Culture: Do Research and Clinical Findings Support the Notion of a Cultural Construct for the Disorder?; The Journal of Biological Psychiatry; Volume 57, Issue 11, 1 June 2005, Pages 1436-1441;

Neufeld & Foy; Neufeld, P. and Michael, F.; British Journal of educational studies; Historical Reflections on the Ascendancy of ADHD in North America, c. 1980-c. 2005

Maloff; Maloff, Jared; the Biology of ADD;

3 thoughts on “ADD/ADHD in North America

  1. I really enjoyed your post about ADD/ADHD because you were able to address the common thought that ADD/ADHD may not be a credible biological disorder. The fact that this is potentially a culture-bound syndrome that is only seen in the United States could only add to the difficulty of determining if this is a legitimate disorder or not. Culture-bound syndromes could be harder to diagnose because they are only recognized or experienced within that culture and when it comes to a psychological disorder, it just further increases the difficulty of diagnosis. In my opinion, we may see ADD/ADHD more often in the United States for the fact that we are always on the go and have so many things operating at once, making it hard to focus on just one thing, thus leading to the development of this disorder. We constantly have the television on, our computer, tablet, phone, iPod and so forth. We live in a high-tech society that is constantly growing; it is possible that the human brain is not able to process that fast living lifestyle that our culture is often found in. For these reasons, I do believe that this should be a culture-bound syndrome. Other cultures may not have the technology that we do, so they spend less time with their mind in other places, not only that but many other cultures live at a slower pace, cherishing every little moment and taking everything in. In another culture ADD/ADHD may not even be taken into consideration as a disorder; another culture may just think it is a lack of mental strength and will that is making them focus on so many things at once and lose their focus.

  2. I agree with the fact that it is difficult to tell whether ADD and ADHD are simply culture bound syndromes, or if they are actually considered a biological disease. Like you said in your summary, some brain scans of people diagnosed with these conditions have abnormalities in their frontal lobes, but until more research is done, most likely meaning that all people diagnosed should get a scan, no one can say for sure. I believe that if ADD/ ADHD are not considered diseases, they should at least be considered an illness of the mind. I know many people, and have many close friends, that have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and do not think that that they are just “made- up” conditions, but can not say if it is a legitimate biological disease until further proof is established. I can say, however, that they would not be fully functionable without their medication; which may be due to biological necessity or maybe even some sort of addiction. Furthermore, I think that in the United States, many people may actually express symptoms of the conditions, but, especially with college students, some may claim they have symptoms only to gain access to pills. In conclusion, times are changing, and Americans continue to get busier and busier. The busier we are, the more stress we may feel, which is perhaps taking a toll on the minds of our youth.

  3. I decided to comment on this posting because I have a strong interest in ADD/ADHD because I feel that it is a misunderstood and misdiagnosed problem. I believe that people who truly suffer from ADD have biological differences and struggle to maintain normal concentration. I do not fully agree that iPads and cell phones contribute to ADD and that makes it difficult to determine if it is a cultural bound syndrome. I do however feel that our culture contributes to the over diagnosis and unnecessary medicating of young children. I think our culture allows so much freedom among young children that just because a kid is distracted or not motivated to stay on task he must have a problem. I think the really problem in many cases is not enough parental discipline. I recall my own childhood and think about how my parents raised me. I, like many other young boys, would rather play with toys, friends, or daydream during school. I would rather not “focus” on homework and do much more fun and engaging activities, but my parents were strict and didn’t care if I wasn’t focused. My options were to sit down and get my work done or all my fun privileges were taken away. My best friend who was told to take ADD medication because he was a little hyper and “unfocused” in middle and high school just graduated from Notre Dame with his masters of accounting. The best part is he hasn’t taken one of those pills since sophomore year of high school. He would take it from his mom and either throws it away or pretends to take it. He hated the way they made him feel and realized his desire to be successful was plenty of motivation to focus.

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