This study aimed to analyse the representation of ADHD in the French general press from 1995 to 2015, and compare it with representations provided by the specialised press read by social workers.
Articles from nine newspapers* containing the keyword “hyperactivity/hyperactive”, dating from January 1995 to December 2015, were identified using the EUROPRESSE database. The resulting articles were separated into three categories: 1) those that support the biomedical model of ADHD; 2) those that support the psychodynamic model; and 3) those that support both models. The content of each article was analysed using five detailed questions relating to: 1) the contribution of genetic factors to ADHD aetiology;† 2) other causes of ADHD;‡ 3) whether the article supported pharmacological treatment, psychotherapy or combined treatment; 4) the effectiveness of pharmacological treatment in decreasing the risk of academic underachievement; and 5) the use of brain imaging for ADHD diagnosis.
A survey of the 159 articles considered appropriate for inclusion in this study highlighted that:
- Only 25 articles discussed the contribution of genetic factors to ADHD aetiology; of these, 8 stated that genetics play a major role, 5 challenged this assertion and 12 presented both arguments.
- Neurological dysfunction as a cause of ADHD was discussed in 26 articles, with only 1 article challenging this opinion based on scientific arguments.
- Despite prematurity at birth being a recognisable risk factor for subsequent ADHD diagnosis, only 6 articles mentioned this link.
- Inadequate parenting and/or inappropriate schooling systems were the most frequently mentioned risk factors for ADHD, being discussed in 35 articles.
- Additional risk factors that may contribute to ADHD include: excessive exposure to television or video games (10 articles); excessive consumption of certain foods (4 articles); exposure to chemicals during early childhood and prenatal exposure to alcohol or nicotine (5 articles); and the social risk factor of low economic status of the family (2 articles).
- A high proportion of articles emphasised the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach to ADHD treatment, with 57 stating that both pharmacological and psychosocial treatments were necessary. A smaller proportion (14 articles) mentioned only pharmacological treatment of ADHD symptoms.
- From 1995 to 2000, 9 out of 15 (60%) published articles expressed a fear that psychostimulant medication for the treatment of ADHD may lead to long-term side effects and be diverted and abused. The majority of these articles warned against over-prescription in France.
- Academic underachievement resulting from untreated ADHD symptoms was frequently cited (59 articles), with substance misuse (13 articles) and antisocial behaviours (12 articles) less so.
- Only 11 articles suggested that pharmacological treatment of ADHD can protect children from academic underachievement; 4 articles stated that pharmacological treatment does not protect from academic underachievement and 2 articles gave expert voice to conflicting opinions on the subject.
- Only 1 article suggested that brain imaging can detect differences between children with or without ADHD, whereas 2 stated that brain imaging cannot detect obvious differences between these patient populations.
- The 6 newspapers with a right or centre political orientation tended to support the biomedical model of ADHD more frequently than the 3 left-leaning newspapers; however, the proportion of articles supporting the psychodynamic model of ADHD was low and did not depend on political orientation.
- The influence of pharmaceutical companies on the prescription of pharmacological treatment for ADHD was mentioned 15 times, specifically in relation to the US, with a warning that the US drug industry was contributing to the increase in pharmacological treatments; however, discussion of this effect in France was scarce.
The major limitation of this study is that the role of the Internet was not investigated.
The authors concluded that, overall, the general and specialised French press supported a complex understanding of ADHD aetiology and treatment, with defence of either the psychodynamic understanding of ADHD or a nuanced version of the biomedical model.
*The newspapers consisted of 4 major French national daily newspapers (La Croix, Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération), 3 weekly newspapers (L’Express, Le Nouvel Observateur and Le Point) and 2 major regional daily newspapers (Le Progrès and Sud Ouest)
†Articles were classified as supporting the argument that: 1) genetic factors are the main contributors; 2) environmental rather than genetic factors are the main contributors; or 3) both arguments are correct
‡The four classes of causes of ADHD considered were: 1) neurological or neurodevelopmental dysfunctions; 2) premature birth; 3) inappropriate education; and 4) other causes including poverty and pesticides
Ponnou S, Gonon F. How French media have portrayed ADHD to the lay public and to social workers. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being 2017; 12(Suppl 1): 1298244.