ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is now a common behavioural disorder diagnosed among children and, to an increasing extent, among adults as well. People who suffer from ADHD could fall into either category: the inattentive type, where individuals have difficulty sustaining their attention to a single task and are easily distracted, and the hyperactive-impulsive type, where individuals find it difficult to be patient or even sit still.
The way popular media depicts mental health concerns plays a key role in shaping how the general discourse exists about mental health. We list some series and movies that explore the condition.
1. Charlie Bartlett
Charlie, the central character of this movie, is a teenager who is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In this movie, like many other people afflicted with the condition, Charlie is struggling academically and is facing trouble fitting into high school. There are times when Charlie doesn’t appear to be listening when given instructions by others. Daydreaming, difficulty falling asleep, impulsivity and mood dysregulation are a few other challenges Charlie faces daily. I think this movie aptly depicts the daily challenges of living with ADHD.
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2. Finding Nemo & Finding Dory
Dory (a blue tang) is riddled with short-term memory issues, has difficulty following multi-step directions, and is often impulsive in her behaviours. Many parents and other adults may recognize these symptoms all too well, either in their children or in themselves.
3. The Simpsons
In The Simpsons, Bart Simpson’s ADHD was called out in Brother's Little Helper (S11E02), where Bart goes on to try a new "potentially dangerous" drug called Focusyn. Bart's constant distractibility and difficulties with executive functioning affect his school performance regularly. Often, a dip in academic performance is what parents are concerned about, leading them to seek professional help for their children. Behavioural difficulties, such as disruptions at home, school, and other contexts, forgetfulness, and difficulties in organising the day or tasks are also common. At the same time, Bart is also shown as a character who is capable of doing a lot of things skillfully. His street smartness and practical knowledge shows us yet again that there is more to ADHD than the usual tropes that are served to us.
4. Free the Mind
This movie revolves around Richard Davidson, a professor who helps individuals who are suffering from mental health problems. This film is about three test subjects, and among the three is a 5-year-old child who is diagnosed with ADHD. The subjects make progress during their therapy sessions which involve yoga and meditation as well, and then are assessed to screen their progress. The pros of this film are the importance it gives to therapy. It also shines a light on the importance of screening tools.
5. The Disruptors
This is a documentary which follows real-life people who have been diagnosed with ADHD. However, these people are no ordinary people. These are people who are very successful in their field, each a revolutionary in their respective art. This revolves around people talking about ADHD, their symptoms, their misdiagnosis, the hardships they have had, and the tough times they have overcome. It is highly recommended as it will inspire us to achieve things which we might have been told are too “out of reach” for us.
6. Pasanga 2
This Tamil film revolves around two children who have been diagnosed with ADHD and are treated as misfits and suspended from schools because of their “hyperactive” activities, which not all teachers understand. They are then sent to a school which does not follow the traditional route of education. It plays on the strengths of each child so that they are able to live their best lives. This movie brings us awareness and educates us on the fact that not every child is the same. Each child needs an environment where their strengths can be nurtured, and their weaknesses can be worked on.
7. Attention Please
Attention Please is a short film about a 5-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with ADHD. The only “treatment” that was accessible to him was medications. This story revolves around a mother on a quest to find a therapy which is medication free for her child. This is a short film which is highly recommended as it explores therapies of various kinds for the management of ADHD. It also explores how misdiagnosis and labelling of children can have a major negative impact on millions of children, and so, how important the diagnosis itself is.
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8. How to Train your Dragon
This is an animated movie which features a boy named Hiccup, who feels different from other people in his village. He is constantly taunted, and people say he doesn’t listen, or his attention span is that of a “sparrow”. The more he wants to fit in, the more he is made to feel alienated. It is only when he feels he is bound to stand out and follow his own unique path that he is able to achieve success and save his village. The learning from this heartfelt movie is that labelling an individual and treating them as someone who is “lesser than” will get us nowhere as a society.
Inputs from Dr Roma Kumar, Co-founder and Chief Psychologist, Emotionally, Aakash Gurbani and Kankam Khosla, Counselling Psychologists at Karma Centre Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing and Dr Hansika Kapoor, research author and psychologist at the Monk Prayogshala