Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

The Social Construction and Reframing of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

The Social Construction and Reframing of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Article excerpt

In this article, I integrate research in social construct theory, the medicalization of attentiondeficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and strengths-based theory to propose a change in the way American society negatively labels and interacts with people diagnosed with ADHD. This article presents examples of global perspectives on ADHD, the nature of stigma that occurs to those who receive a medical diagnosis of ADHD, and the need to reframe ADHD from a disease to that of a positive difference. The reader is asked to consider the implications for millions who suffer from the stigma of ADHD. Starting with children diagnosed with ADHD, I suggest that members of society begin to reframe ADHD as a social construct recognizing the strengths and positive traits because there are many. This is a call to all members of society, especially those professionals of the medical, psychological, social, and educational systems, to adopt a strengths-based model of support for those diagnosed with ADHD.

Keywords: ADHD; social construct; strengths-based theory; reframing; stigma; negative label; medicalization; positive psychology

The concept of social construction, as defined by Berger and Luckman (1966), starts with people in the social system who interact together. These interactions create concepts of each other's actions over time, and people become accustomed to these roles by frequent exposure or repetition. As these roles or experiences are introduced to other members of society and are understood and practiced by society at large, these interactions become institutionalized and adopted by society as knowledge. The method of transmission of this knowledge is through language. Berger and Luckman (1966) explain how only a portion of human experience is retained in the conscious mind. They explain that as these experiences are retained, they become sedimented, as in settled or deposited in a more stable state. As these experiences are shared with others, intersubjective sedimentation occurs as more and more individuals share this common biography. These shared experiences are made available to an entire community, and,

. . . language provides the means for objectifying new experiences, allowing their incorporation into the already existing stock of knowledge, and it is the most important means by which the objectivated and objectified sedimentations are transmitted in the tradition of the collectivity in question. (pp. 63-64)

Social construction theory includes interpretive examination of contemporary social phenomena in which people describe or explain the world in which they live. Social construction theory involves discourse around the social interactions that occur and form a socially constructed relationship. Based on contemporary events and interpretations of these events, the theory holds that "people's beliefs about the world are social inventions. Reality is socially constructed based on people's definitions" (Cheung, 1997, p. 332).

Similarly, an organism's condition that has been determined to be not normal or not operating at a level that society expects is believed to be abnormal and labeled as such. The language pertaining to this abnormality or disorder may warrant this condition or disease to be proven abnormal through empirical evidence, and the results declared scientifically valid. It is through the social construction of mental illnesses that I present examples of what has been defined as abnormal or outside society's acceptance of normal human experience by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

ADHD: Social Construction of a Mental Disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication of APA, reflects American cultural and societal trends relative to societal beliefs and behaviors. Many developed countries in the world follow the DSM, but it is important to understand that mental disorders are defined from American science and ontology. …

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