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Optical disillusion: the PR of ADHD & Puberty Blockers, by MD

This blog is deeply personal. Several of my family and close friends have been diagnosed with ADHD and gender dysphoria. We were all concerned about efficacy and misdiagnosis. When I looked into the two conditions, I found some surprising connections. In the mid-90’s psychologist Dr. Gretchen LeFever Watson applied for a grant to investigate the over-medication of children. Not long after the funding was agreed she was accused of fraud. Her computers were seized and she was immediately suspended. It took nearly ten years for her to be cleared of all charges, by which time her academic career was in tatters. Dr. LeFever Watson was investigating the spiralling numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD. Roll on a couple of decades and we have Dr. Kathleen Stock heading the list of academics pushed out – this time because they’re on the ‘wrong’ side of the gender wars. In his book ADHD Nation, Alan Schwarz gives the history of the PR techniques that pushed the ever-widening market for ADHD meds. All these tricks have been copied to sell gender ideology and the drugs that go with them. In the book he emphasises that ADHD medications have been highly effective for many children. It is not the drugs that are at fault: it is the overselling them that is wrong.

It’s not surprising there are similarities between the different drugs and the techniques used to push them. The pharmaceutical industry is driven to make ever bigger profits and to do so it needs to increase the numbers taking their drugs. It’s the over-diagnosis, and hence over-medication, that they’re selling. They must convince people that they are patients, and that as patients they need the pills. Even if, most of the time, they don’t. One harmless PR trick is retro-diagnosis. Historical figures confer respectability on conditions that have only recently been defined – or invented. For instance, Mozart had ADHD. Apparently. And infuriatingly for old-fashioned lesbians, Ann Lister, a.k.a. Gentleman Jack, was a trans man. She is probably too ancient to even turn in her grave. Less harmless is proposing that psychological conditions are innate. If ADHD is inherited, (and it’s a maybe), it is unlikely due to be down to a single genetic variation. But the ADHD industry have signed up to a simplistic version in which ADHD is part of a baby’s brain circuitry. In this version early diagnosis becomes normalised. Already in 1963, parents were being pushed to medicate their jumping-bean youngsters. By 2015 there were 10,000 toddlers diagnosed with ADHD in the United States.

There is a similar trajectory with gender non-conforming children. Heather Brunskell-Evans has shown how the transgender child was created as a status, and this has legitimated ever-younger children being diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Toddlers as young as three are being ‘socially transitioned’, ready for adolescence when they can go on to puberty blockers. To achieve market saturation a drug must be seen as the only cure. The biggest threat therefore is talking therapies: writing about ADHD, psychiatrist Paul Wender claimed that ‘in many instances psychotherapy of children with this syndrome constitutes malpractice – a harmful withholding of useful treatment from a child.’

We have recently witnessed an escalation of this tactic in the gender wars. The stated aim of the Consultation on Banning Conversion Therapy is to make therapy illegal. This is a change in order of magnitudes – from merely discrediting therapy to declaring a civil war on talking cures. Incredibly, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) supports the possibility of its members being imprisoned for talking with young people about gender identity. Another cynical tactic is emotionally manipulative, negative PR. ‘I want a happy daughter not a dead son’, says Anna Friel in the ITV drama Butterfly, with the script lifting the mantra straight from Mermaids, the transgender youth charity. In turn, this is lifted straight from the ADHD PR rule book. A 2016 article in a U.S. magazine said that there was a lost generation of women, with girls four times more likely to commit suicide or self-harm – because they weren’t on ADHD meds. The figures were completely wrong, but from a PR point of view the article was a success. When you understand that the history of marketing for gender transition is based on ADHD PR tactics you can see it for what it is: a box of creepy tricks to get more young people onto puberty blockers. This is especially cynical given that these drugs are associated with greater suicidal ideation. It goes deeper. Astroturfing is the practice of political and corporate campaigns masquerading as a mass movement. It is the 21-century form of fake advertising. As consumers suffer advertising fatigue, they place greater emphasis on peer recommendations. In the early 90’s a pharma company created CHADD, (Children and Adults with ADD), a peer group which reassured parents that Ritalin medication was safe. Membership soared. Educational videos were published in its name, and it successfully lobbied to have Ritalin less regulated. When the funding links between CHADD and Ciba Geigy, the makers of Ritalin, were uncovered, parents were shocked; but CHADD merely doubled-down on its propaganda. Even now, ‘The Story of CHADD’ omits the early connection with the pharmaceutical industry. Jennifer Bilek has written extensively on the level of astroturfing within the gender ideology movement and how it’s backed up by murky funding channels and lobbying groups What’s remarkable about this marketing by big pharma is that the gender ideology movement has reversed young people’s cultural expectations. For half a century ‘Sex & Drugs & Roll & Roll’ was behind most youth subcultures. Not any more. It seems young people are now in the market for pain, discomfort, lack of libido, loss of sexual pleasure, infertility and a lifelong reliance on medications that are not properly evidenced. These marketing ploys have been phenomenally successful: in five years there has been a tenfold rise in the number of referrals to gender identity clinics.

The success of this lobbying lies in its ability to create a distance between campaign and company. Where the ADHD drug company’s role was concealed in CHADD, now we have a complete dislocation between big pharma and gender ideology campaigns. Here’s a video of young people at a Trans Pride demo yelling to end counselling and increase cross-sex hormones prescriptions. It’s unlikely that they were funded. It’s also unlikely they knew the names of the companies profiteering from their chants. It’s like an optical illusion. Once you start to see the hype around gender ideology as just a very, very successful link in a long line of pharma marketing, then you can’t unsee it. But there again, if you’ve been captured by gender ideology, you won’t see it at all.

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