Podcast #320: The ADHD Explosion

You’ve probably heard about the precipitous rise in diagnoses of ADHD in America the past few decades. What was once a rare mental illness has now become a common problem amongst children — particularly boys. Why the sudden spike? Are there really more people with ADHD or is something else going on?

My guest today has some possible answers to that question. His name is Steve Hinshaw and he’s a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. In his book, The ADHD Explosion, Dr. Hinshaw gives the lay reader a crash course into ADHD and provides some insights as to why we’re seeing such a huge spike in the number of individuals diagnosed with it. We begin our conversation talking about what exactly ADHD is and how it impairs individuals. We then discuss the biological and environmental causes of ADHD, debunk some of the myths surrounding it, and discuss which treatments actually work.

Dr. Hinshaw then delves into his research which shows that the rise in ADHD is not because more people are actually developing it, but rather that cultural and economic forces in schools, corporations, and governments incentivize shoddy diagnoses. We also discuss the fact that ADHD medication is often used by people who don’t have ADHD in order to perform better, and whether it actually improves performance for these folks or not.

We end with a discussion about his new book, Another Kind of Madness, and the stigma of mental illness in America.

Show Highlights

  • What exactly is ADHD, and what does it feel like to have it?
  • The adverse effects of having ADHD
  • Why are the theories of ADHD’s origins so nebulous?
  • The percentage of people in the US with a diagnosis, and how that number has exploded in the last decade
  • How school achievement testing and educational policies have affected ADHD diagnoses
  • What it takes to get an “official” ADHD diagnosis
  • “Tom Sawyer” syndrome — what about the idea of “boys being boys”?
  • How ADHD manifests differently in boys and girls
  • How ADHD manifests in adulthood
  • Treatments for ADHD, including those that don’t rely on medications
  • How cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly used for depression treatment, can help ADHD
  • What culture can do to counteract the ADHD explosion
  • What happens to Average Joes who take stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall to simply be able to focus better
  • The stigma of mental illness, and why it hasn’t gotten better over the decades

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

I admittedly knew very little about ADHD before I read The ADHD Explosion. Steve does a great job explaining in layman’s terms what ADHD actually is. More importantly, he and his co-author deftly suss out what’s behind the precipitous rise in diagnoses in the past 20 years.

Connect With Stephen

Stephen on Twitter

Stepehn’s website

Stephen Hinshaw on Facebook

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