Mental Health

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British Psychological Society endorses stigmatisation of ADHD

Revised version dated Friday, 26th January 2018

On Tuesday, 16th January, AADD-UK was alerted to a furious Twitter row that began Friday, 12th January when the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), a Division within the British Psychological Society (BPS),*  held an actively promoted launch at the Friends House, across from Euston Station, London for the Division’s recently published “Power Threat Meaning Framework: Towards the identification of patterns in emotional distress, unusual experiences and troubled or troubling behaviour, as an alternative to functional psychiatric diagnosis.” 

Having no idea what this Framework was about & curious as to why there was such a ruckus, I downloaded a copy and began reading.

This is what happened:

The Framework seemed sturdy, 411 pages long, and reputable.   It’s on the BPS website, it has their logo (Tagline: Promoting excellence in psychology) as well as the logo for the Division of Clinical Psychologists. It’s clearly stated on the printer’s imprint and copyright page that the publication “has been produced by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology as a Member Network publication and represents the views and expert contributions of its authors” and it was printed and published by the British Psychological Society.

So far so good.

Next, on page 5, under the heading ‘Document summary‘, I learnt the reason for the existence of the Framework as follows (please bear with me as I give you these somewhat tedious details, their relevance will be more evident later):

In 2013, the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP) of the British Psychological Society
(BPS) published a Position Statement entitled Classification of behaviour and experience in relation to functional psychiatric diagnoses: Time for a paradigm shift. Recommendation 3 of the position paper is: ‘To support work, in conjunction with service users, on developing a multi-factorial and contextual approach, which incorporates social, psychological and biological factors’ (p.9). This document is the result of a DCP-funded project for work towards fulfilling this aim.

Since I tend to be overly conscientious as well as curious, I decided to read ‘Time for a paradigm shift‘ first so that I could understand the context for the PTMFramework so I downloaded a copy, thankfully only 9 pages long, and began reading (it’s publication format was the same as the Framework’s).

I was more interested when I recognised a few of the author’s names due to their interactions with the Twitter row. Things quickly became more interesting when, on page 2, I read the following paragraph (emphasis mine):

At the same time it should be noted that functional psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders and so on, due to their limited reliability and questionable validity, provide a flawed basis for evidence-based practice, research, intervention guidelines and the various administrative and nonclinical uses of diagnosis.

After this, I carried on reading, paying closer attention to the references and source names, some of whom I also recognised, and by the time I reached the summary (below) on page 5, I’d already concluded that the ‘position statement‘ produced by the Division of Clinical Psychologists was a veiled attempt at undermining psychiatry and diagnoses, i.e. anti-psychiatry. The Twitter row wasn’t the only place I’d seen those names.

The DCP believes there is a clear rationale and need for a paradigm shift in relation to functional psychiatric diagnoses. It argues for an approach that is multi-factorial, contextualises distress and behaviour, and acknowledges the complexity of the interactions involved in all human experience.

The whole Division? I wondered how many psychologists were involved so I did a Google search.  I didn’t find numbers for psychologists but I did find an interesting page on the BPS website under “news”. It’s titled  “The future of clinical psychology in the Society” which mentions plans for a another UK association for Clinical Psycololgists.  Intriguingly, there’s strange hints about unity (lack of?) along with a reminder that relationships with external organisations must advance BPS’ objects.  The policy is linked to this page.  Hmm! Keep all this in mind as you read on.

I returned to reading the Power Threat Meaning Framework.  Now, I freely admit that I was slightly distracted by the policy I’d just read and I was aware my bias filters were turned on.  I thought I knew what to expect.  I was wrong!

I was shocked! And this feeling intensified the more I read.  The authors’ tone, conveyed through their choice of words and viewpoint, is arrogant and patronising and their negative and disapproving attitude towards ADHD is stigmatising and discriminatory.  Make no mistake the ideology behind the Framework belongs to the anti-psychiatry movement.

I’m not going to analyse the arguments put forward in the Framework other than to say that while some of the ideas are  interesting, they aren’t discussed in any depth. The authors’ make some half-hearted attempts at describing different sides of an argument, but these are often spoilt by their habit of using adverbs to manipulate us into choosing their favoured option .

This post is getting too long so I’m only going to add 5 extracts from the Framework so that you have some sort of idea as to what it’s like.  I’ve put links to the Framework as well as to the Time for a Paradigm Shift at the very end of this post in the References section.  If you’re interested, you can download them and judge them for yourselves.

“. . .and psychiatric diagnoses are often explicitly used as explanations. But the impression of explanation is false and the reasoning behind it is illogical“. (2018, p.29)

We underestimate the difficulty of describing patterns in people’s behavioural or bodily problems and often ‘see’ associations which are not there (known as the illusory correlation). This is why medical researchers have developed the kind of rules we discussed earlier to try to ensure that the bodily patterns they describe are ‘real’ and not illusory. The combination of limited public understanding of diagnostic procedures and overconfidence in judgements of patterns, can confer credibility on psychiatric categories which is not justified by the evidence“. 2018, p.30)

The existence of particular categories can influence how people’s experiences are interpreted and how they express their distress. Aided by the illusory correlation, diagnostic categories can then become self-fulfilling prophecies, conferring further credibility as growing numbers of people seem to match them. And, especially if people do not have access to non-medical, non-blaming explanations, the process can become self-perpetuating as people increasingly request confirmation of self-diagnoses of ‘bipolar disorder’ or ‘ADHD’ and so on.” (2018, p.30)

All of this is reflected in psychiatric diagnosis’ inevitable dependence on social judgements, as we discussed in Chapter 1, and many critics have traced particular diagnoses back to the social norms they challenge: ‘borderline personality disorder’ for women who are too angry; ‘depression’ for women who are exhausted by domestic demands; ‘anorexia nervosa’ as a reaction to the unrealistic role and appearance standards faced by modern women; alcohol misuse and suicide for men whose socialisation does not permit the expression of despair in other ways; ‘ADHD’ for children who are not suited to educational regimentation, and so on . . .These rule transgressions can involve over-adaption to the ideal image, as well as failing to live up to it; . . . Similarly, it has been suggested that the enormous rise in diagnoses of ‘autism spectrum disorders’ and ‘Asperger’s’ may partly reflect demands made by highly industrialised and service-oriented economies for successful employees to display emotional behaviours such as (faked) sociability, warmth, gratitude, passion and so on – skills which do not come easily to everyone (Roberts, 2015). (NB: Although autism in its most severe forms fits the profile of a neurodevelopmental disorder of some kind, the debates about these diagnoses are particularly complex . .  . Given all this, it is hardly surprising that in many parts of the Global South, there may be no equivalent categories to the experiences that DSM and ICD label as ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, borderline personality disorder, anorexia, and so on. In fact, the distinction between thought and emotion may not even be recognised (Cromby, 2015) and the very notion of an individual who exists in some sense independently from their social network may be alien.” (2018, p. 69-70)

From a PTM Framework perspective, the trauma-informed model has much to offer. It also has risks and limitations, including: Conceptualising the approach as an alternative explanation for ‘schizophrenia’, ‘bipolar disorder’, ‘ADHD’ and so on, perhaps by reducing adversities to the status of a ‘trigger’ and thus retaining diagnostic categories and thinking . . .”  (2018, p.276)

I apologise for the length of the quotes. I’m trying to give you an accurate picture by including some context.

Returning to my story: I revisited the Twitter row, partly because I was angry and looking for a fight and partly because I couldn’t believe that professionals still believed this kind of stuff in 2018.

I’m going to pause now and give myself a pat on the back, as once advised by a psychotherapist.

Despite being angry and upset, I managed to stay calm and polite, except for a couple of little jabs & swipes, as I asked questions and gave feedback to the authors, and yes the medication also helped even when my questions were evaded and ignored. I did, however, get replies from a registered psychologist, supporter of the Framework, who told me, via tweets, that ADHD diagnoses are invalid and damaging. I also saw a tweet from one of the Framework authors in which she stated, “IMO all DX are BS & giving psychoactive meds to kids is immoral. To view ADHD as valid DX seems remarkably lacking in critical thinking.” I’ve kept copies of these tweets.

Eventually, I realised I was wasting my time and energy, the authors didn’t want to hear, even questioned whether I’d read the framework,  and then said it was up to me how I used the Framework, I didn’t give the obvious reply!   Instead I decided to leave.

I was sorry though to leave behind some of the people I’d met (I’m using the word figuratively) .   Not all psychologists support the framework, and the same goes for my fellow service users.  In fact the people I met were kind, caring and open-minded, and some even had a wicked sense of humour and mischief.  I laughed out loud several times.

I also met service users from the other side of the argument who were kind and helped me to understand and accept their very valid reasons for disliking diagnoses.  But my experiences with the professional supporters of the Framework had a completely different nature.  I’m not going to give details, it’s not fair.  And anyway, we’ve reached the point at which I return to the description I gave earlier of the publication details of the DCP’s position statement and the PTMFramework. My reasons for giving you those dull details at the beginning.

You see, I couldn’t just walk away telling myself that the fuss would die down in a few days and be forgotten. The reality is the PTMFramework, despite its evident bias and stigmatising attitude, the BPS allowed it to be published, it’s available on their website, registered psychologists promoted it on Twitter, and the BPS and DPC logos are displayed on its front cover.  And all these carry a backstory of reputability, reliability, and safety.  This apparent endorsement by the BPS will encourage the stigmatisation of people with ADHD.

That’s why, here at AADD-UK,  we talked and made a plan the first step of which was to send an open letter (below) to the British Psychological Society in which we set out our requests.  If these are met we will consider the matter closed as far as we are concerned. We tweeted the letter on Tuesday, 23rd January but as of today we’ve heard nothing.

Never mind, the longer the delay, the longer the length of rope.

We will wait until end of day on Friday, 2 February for a reply.

Finally, here is the letter we to BPS as a warning shot across their bows.

Tuesday, 23rd January 2018

Open letter to the British Psychological Society 

Re: The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMFramework) *

We are a service user organisation and via public promotion on Twitter by the authors and their supporters we were alerted to the open availability of the PTMFramework.

We read it and were shocked by the strong, stigmatising suggestion that ADHD is an illusory, unprofessional, unscientific and unethical diagnosis.

We joined the public Twitter debate & gave this feedback to the lead author as well to @BPSOfficial and @UKDCP. We also pointed out that our views were not sought before publication. We asked for your response.

None has been forthcoming regarding our feedback about these two matters although a registered psychologist, supporter of the framework, did send us inappropriate tweets.

As this has taken place on Twitter, we are using the same platform to ask that the current version of the PTMFramework be retracted to allow the removal of all specific references to ADHD as well as all assertions and/or suggestions that ADHD is an invalid diagnosis.

We also respectfully suggest that the Framework be amended to meet academic standards.

Finally, we ask that you issue a public apology acknowledging the distress and stigmatisation that ADHD service users are experiencing due to the open-access publication and ongoing public promotion of the current version. We suggest that you also respond regarding the unprofessional tweets from the registered psychologist.

If these requests are met, we will consider these specific matters closed as far as we are concerned.

Kind regards,

Susan Dunn Morua on behalf of AADD-UK
@AADDUK (other contact details supplied upon request)

Important note: Many psychologists are NOT supportive of this framework. Additionally, there are service users who reject their diagnosis, for valid reasons, and thus support the framework. AADD-UK fully understands, accepts and supports their right to make this choice. Our letter is only addressing the stigmatising attitude displayed towards ADHD people who have benefited from a psychiatric diagnosis

*The British Psychological Society is a registered charity which according the blurb on their website does the following:

“. . . acts as the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK, and is responsible for the promotion of excellence and ethical practice in the science, education, and application of the discipline.”


As a society we support and enhance the development and application of psychology for the greater public good, setting high standards for research, education, and knowledge, and disseminating our knowledge to increase the wider public awareness of psychology and its importance.”



Awenat, F. & Berger, M., Coles, S., et al. (2013). Classification of behaviour and experience in relation to functional psychiatric diagnoses: Time for a paradigm shift. DCP Position Statement. Leicester: British Psychological  Society

*Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M. with Cromby, J., Dillon, J., Harper, D., Kinderman, P., Longden, E., Pilgrim, D. & Read, J. (2018). The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Towards the identification of patterns in emotional distress, unusual experiences and troubled or troubling behaviour, as an alternative to functional psychiatric diagnosis. Leicester: British Psychological Society

Here are the Standards of Conduct, Performance and ethics for registered psychologists


Bridging the gap: optimising transition from child to adult mental healthcare

The following has been taken from the introduction to an Expert Policy Paper that explores the reasons why transitioning from child to adult mental healthcare is problematic and challenging. We’ve put a link to the full paper at the end of the following introduction:

Transition to adult services is often a difficult time for young people living with a mental
health condition. The journey through adolescence into adulthood is a time of significant
physical, psychological and social change not only for the adolescent, but also their
families. Overall rates of mental health problems can also increase during adolescence and issues become more complex, and in some cases serious disorders such as psychosis
may emerge. During this period, adolescents may also have a greater tendency for risky
behaviour, become lost in the system between child and adult mental health services and are also at greater risk of disengagement from services.

This Expert Policy Paper was developed on the basis of an Expert Working Meeting on
Mental Health and Transition, held in Brussels on 11 July 2017. The meeting brought
together expert clinicians (psychiatrists and neurologists), patient representatives, academics and mental health advocacy groups to explore the reasons why transition of care is currently suboptimal, discuss and agree on the principles for good transition and develop practical recommendations for improving transition to adult mental healthcare services. The group included expert stakeholders from the field of transition of care, mental health in general and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Expert Working Group highlighted that the problems associated with transition from child to adult services are not disease-specific; they apply to all mental health disorders, for example, epilepsy, autism and social phobia. However, to identify practical policy solutions, the Expert Working Meeting focused on ADHD as a case study in the analysis of the problems, barriers to change and potential solutions associated with transition of care.

ADHD is a diverse condition characterised by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity
and impulsivity that can have a significant impact on patients’ lives. ADHD is relatively
common and often persists into adulthood. Despite this, access to adult ADHD services
and support is generally poor, resulting in frequent gaps in care.2,11 For these reasons,
ADHD provides an example in which to frame transition to adult services across the
mental health sector.

If you would like to read the full Policy Paper, please click on Bridging the Gap 


ADHD: Surviving or Thriving?

Here at AADD-UK we avidly followed the news about mental health issues during Mental Health Awareness Week.  We admired the bravery of those telling their own stories, we retweeted some general mental health links instead of those that only dealt directly with ADHD, all the while preparing for our 10th Year Anniversary by revamping our website. Then suddenly we realised we’d forgotten the elephant in our own parlour! So we decided to write, just before the week ended, our own position for Mental Health Awareness Week.. Here it is:

First, we thanked the Mental Health Foundation for hosting the week, and thanked them for commissioning the survey and consequent report “Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK’s mental health.” The authors of the report wrote that despite “many areas of advances in human health we are not seeing these reflected in mental health. If anything, the signs are that we are slipping back.” They backed this up by shockingly disclosing that only 13% of those surveyed in England, Scotland and Wales had “high positive mental health” and that nearly “two-thirds of people say that they have experienced a mental health problem” and others were clearly “just about surviving.”

The authors further reported that those of us living with either low household incomes or  unemployment have worse mental health than those employed at higher incomes. 3 in 4 people at the lowest income level, 85% of unemployed people, 7 in every 10 women, 7 in every 10 young adults (aged 18-34), and 7 in 10 people living alone experienced poor mental health. Additionally, the authors quoted the “Mental Health and Wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014” (published last year) which revealed that every week 1 in 6 adults experienced a “common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression. 1 in 5 adults reported that they had considered taking their own life at some point.”

I sat in silence and reflected upon those numbers and felt an overwhelming sadness. So much unnoticed desperation and despair! Swiftly followed by anger; “Who can I blame?” “Where shall I point my finger?” You see, all this correlated almost exactly with our own experiences in the ADHD world.

It’s been almost 10 years since we set up AADD-UK with hope and optimism. During that 10 years, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published ADHD Guidelines in which adults were included for the first time. Of course there was some initial resistance but over the years more and more professionals  became interested, more and more moved into the field, more and more research confirmed ADHD as valid (even the usual tabloid suspects now, tentatively,  report positive ADHD stories) and there are more ADHD services in the UK than the 3 that existed 10 years ago.

But all is not well! As awareness of ADHD grows, funding for ADHD services dwindles. Some GP’s, due to funding shortages, are reluctant to refer us to services.  In truth, not all of the ADHD services have enough funding to meet the NICE Guidelines. It’s even been suggested, in one known circumstance, that the Guidelines be disregarded. A couple of services have surreptitiously tried to close. Some have decided not to publicise their contact details for fear they’ll get more referrals than allowed for by their funding. Of course, this means that waiting lists are getting longer and longer; even up to 2 years long! It’s true that gate keepers and sign posters cheerily point us to psychological therapies suggesting we use them while waiting. But guess what? Yep that’s right! We’re shuffled onto the end of another waiting list where some of us must try not to listen to whispers about the low quality of the offerings. So, there we are, stuck waiting, struggling to cope with abysmally low self-esteem, hurting, lonely, barely surviving. What does this matter when it’s said that ADHD makes us resilient, that we’re used to hard knocks, that we’re survivors?  It matters because we understand too well that surviving is not thriving and that knowledge is painful!

And what about those of us who’ve been diagnosed and are taking medication? We’re all thriving right? Well not exactly. Medication is indeed all that some of us need. We can now concentrate as well as focus better. That helps us to, at last, move on and up. It helps us to feel relief as well as feel the joy of achievement. Some of us can even choose between seeing a consultant privately for follow-ups or waiting months to see the same consultant on the NHS. There’s a group of us too who, after a competent diagnosis of ADHD, don’t need any further help, not even medication. It’s enough that somebody listened, took us seriously, evaluated patterns underlying our difficulties, and found a way to help us understand. That’s all we needed to find our own way, to thrive and flourish.

Some of us, though, have been so pressured and battered by an uncomprehending and stigmatising life that the clarity that comes with medication also carries the aching revelation that our graceful childhood spirits have turned into cut-down and subjugated ghosts. Taking the right medication is not all we need.  Before we can move from surviving to thriving we need help, we need to rediscover our true spirits, our real potential.   Yet we’re stuck in the low income, or underemployed, or unemployed bracket. So we ask the NHS for help, get sign posted to psychological therapies, by the same cheery folk our clan members encountered, and off we shuffle to join the end of a waiting list.   There we are waiting, masks firmly in place (we don’t want pity), acting as if we don’t care but feeling worn-out, inside crying, mourning for our lost and trusting childhood.  We’re surviving and that’s all!

Still, at least the mere fact that we’re waiting allows us a bit more hope than those of us who’ve not been noticed. Some of us in this group are being shuffled from one wrong diagnosis to another wrong diagnosis, from one wrong medicine to another wrong medicine.  Never having our true reality heard or acknowledged. Some of us become disheartened, lose faith and sink into helplessness. And then what about those of us who learn to believe from early on that we are seemingly born to live life as a failure, never understanding why that appears to be our fate? All of us too are barely surviving!

It’s such a waste because every single one of us with ADHD has the potential to flourish. We would love to use our strengths and abilities to help others, to be a benefit. We don’t need much.  Just the right attention and the right support at the right time. Actually you know what? That’s not hard to provide!

Now I’m angry again so I’m jumping right off the fence and pointing my finger squarely at you, the Government. I’m pointing at you, Theresa May, as well as at you, Jeremy Hunt.  If you get back in charge, for goodness sake stop with your wasteful changing, privatising and building inequality into the health service. Instead, if you really care about helping people to thrive, helping the country to prosper (you do, don’t you?), stand back and for once look at the big picture.

The prevalence rate for children with ADHD is between 5 to 7%, of whom approximately 65% will continue to experience symptoms in adulthood. In other words, roughly 3% to 4% of all adults have ADHD. To make it clearer, about 1 in 25 adults have ADHD. That’s a lot of us! That’s a lot of us costing you a lot of money!

Leaving us unrecognised, undiagnosed, untreated or treated ineffectively, or pushing us onto waiting lists is costing you, the Government, a lot of money in lost tax revenue, inappropriate treatments, repeat visits to A&E, clearing up after our accidents, looking after our brothers and sisters in prisons, and so on and so on (you want evidence, ask and we’ll give it freely). It’s cheaper, far cheaper, to increase NHS mental health funding so that all of us can receive proper help! We want to use our strengths, abilities and skills.  We can use them to thrive and flourish!

And here’s a final note, the need for mental health awareness and funding did not disappear with the end of Mental Health Awareness Week.  The two thirds of people living in England, Scotland and Wales who’ve experienced mental health problems, including all of us with ADHD, are still here on Monday morning. Funding and treatment for everybody experiencing mental ill health is still needed and is still vital. With that, and with preventative care, all of us will thrive and flourish and so too will the country.

I’ve had my say for now! It’s time for you, the Government (whichever of you ends up in charge) to listen and act!

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