5 June 2018

S5M-11127 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11127, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the portrayal of ADHD treatment. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the documentary, Take Your Pills, which has been distributed by Netflix; expresses its strong concern about what it sees as the programme's unbalanced portrayal of ADHD and its treatment; notes the recent publication of updated NICE guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of the condition and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland’s, ADHD in adults: good practice guidelines; acknowledges the calls for the Scottish Government to bring forward plans to update the SIGN guidance on ADHD, which, it understands, has remained the same since 2009, and notes the views that there is a need for a more informed understanding of the condition in Edinburgh and across the country and that taking prescribed medication to treat diagnosed neuro-developmental disorders and mental health conditions is as legitimate as taking prescribed medication to treat physical illness.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Like others, I thank Daniel Johnson for the opportunity to have the debate. I congratulate him on his very individual and particular contribution and the courage that it takes to make it. Fortunately, I am not in a position where I have to exercise that kind of choice.

Members may have heard me talk previously about the first job that I had when I left school. For about eight months in 1964, I worked in a locked ward in a psychiatric hospital, just at the time when the very first medications were becoming available that would give people with quite a wide range of psychiatric and other conditions better treatment than simply being locked up in the old asylums. The asylum in which I worked had about 1,200 patients; today, the hospital that sits on that site has around 100 patients. My starting point, therefore, is that medication is an important part of dealing with a wide range of conditions, one of which is ADHD.

As others have done, I thank the Scottish ADHD Coalition for its briefing for the debate. The briefing talks about the coalition’s survey of parents and refers to

“medication, parent training, school interventions and psychological support.”

I must confess that I have not watched the Netflix film—I take Daniel Johnson’s word for what is in it, supplemented by what Emma Harper said. However, a few weeks ago I saw “The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs”, which was on BBC Four on 23 May 2018. What was interesting was that the doctor used a mindfulness approach to support school students who had ADHD, the idea being not to get them off the drugs but to give them choice and space. I was quite impressed, although of course television programmes always short-circuit complexities; we need to be very careful about that. I am not assuming that the magic bullet was contained in that one hour of television.

That leads me to an important general point, which is our use of the word, and concept of, “normal”. We increasingly view normal as a much narrower range than it is proper to consider. Normal is anything—behaviours, aptitudes, abilities and conditions—that does not harm the individual or cause the individual to harm anyone else. We should review normal as covering a much wider range and variety.

I have my own phobias. I cannot go to my office on the fifth floor of this building—I am generally in first—without straightening up all the rubbish bins. It is just something that I feel compelled to do. I rarely use the phone—I am virtually phobic about that—and I hate pills. There is a reason why I hate pills; I was in an experimental drug programme for a condition that I had when I was 12. The trial did not sort the condition and has left me with lifelong issues associated with it. I use self-hypnosis to deal with pain and asthma. I have not taken medication for my asthma for 35 years; I am fortunate in that I am able to do that, because my condition is probably not severe enough to require medication. Is that not at the heart of the issue? We have to treat people as individuals and find individual treatments that suit them. That might involve a mix of medications, psychological support, family support and educational system support. When we think about ADHD, we should perhaps consider the diversity and range of what is normal.

Daniel Johnson deserves our thanks for raising the issue in this context and showing us that there is more—or perhaps less—to the issue than we might otherwise have thought.


Stewart Stevenson
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