Neuroskeptic has excellent coverage of the recent headline-making study on the genetics of ADHD that was overly-hyped as the ‘first direct genetic link’ to the disorder and overly-slammed as a drug company ploy.
For example, BBC News has a report on the study where you can see researcher Anita Thapar making some unrealistic claims for the significance of the interesting-but-preliminary study while the science-retardant child psychologist Oliver James counters by cherry picking evidence (and not even very accurately).
Neuroskeptic does a great job of untangling the actual import of the research and discusses why the finding of copy-number variations or CNVs in about 16% of the ADHD kids compared to 7.5% of the controls is neither a ‘direct genetic link’ nor evidence against the idea that the condition is ‘socially constructed’.
However, I was particularly drawn by Thapar’s comments that discovering the genetic component “should address the issue of stigma.”
The common idea is that if we can demonstrate a particular mental disorder is a ‘brain disease’ or the result of a biological dysfunction people who have the condition will be less stigmatised due to a vague notion that their behaviour ‘is not their fault’.
Unfortunately, studies to date have shown that biological explanations for mental disorder actually increase stigma in public, patients and mental health professionals because the affected people are typically seen as more unpredictable and dangerous than when social or psychological explanations are given.
It is genuinely important that we understand the genetic influences to behavioural problems, including those that get classified as ADHD, and this new study is a small but important step toward that aim.
But we kid ourselves if we think this evidence automatically decreases stigma and we do society a disservice if we make our acceptance and compassion for people with behavioural difficulties dependent on certain types of scientific explanation.
Link to excellent Neuroskeptic piece on genetics and ADHD study.