When I first got diagnosed, the internet was one of the main places I learned about ADHD.
There were two types of information I got from the internet. One was basic factual information about the symptoms and causes of ADHD. The other was more personal information about people’s firsthand experiences living with the disorder.
In the years since then, the internet has only become more used as an educational resource for ADHDers. In particular, YouTube has taken off. Increasingly, people have picked up cameras and taken to YouTube to share whatever’s on their mind about ADHD.
In the case of ADHD, this give-and-take is even trickier because people are using online content to inform their understanding of a mental health condition. For that reason, a group of researchers decided to watch the most viewed YouTube videos about ADHD and assess how accurate the information those videos provided was.
A search turned up 120 videos that together had nearly 180 million views, which goes to show that plenty of people are watching YouTube videos about ADHD. These videos were then ranked using the DISCERN criteria, a set of questions designed to evaluate how biased health-related information is. For example, some of these criteria are:
- Is it clear what sources of information were used to compile the publication (other than the author or producer)?
- Does it refer to areas of uncertainty?
In the case of ADHD videos, these questions are enlightening. First, if a video is making claims about the science behind ADHD, you want to know what scientific studies those claims are actually coming from. Second, things having to do with mental health and psychology research are rarely 100 percent certain, so if a video doesn’t acknowledge areas of uncertainty, that can be a red flag.
Altogether, the DISCERN criteria cover 16 main questions that are answered on a scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (good). You then get a total score for the source being evaluated, ranging from completely biased (1) to completely unbiased (5).
Rating the ADHD videos, the researchers came up with an average score of 2.03, which certainly leaves something to be desired. Different factors like whether a video was produced by medical professionals or whether it was sponsored tended to make a difference, but no matter how the researchers sliced the data up the average score tended to be somewhere between 2 and 3.
Part of what brought the score down was videos that repeated common myths about ADHD. These videos asserted that ADHD wasn’t “real,” that it was invented by pharmaceutical companies, or that ADHD meds were drugs of abuse. The danger with these videos, of course, is that people who don’t know much about ADHD will come across them and end up accepting an unscientific narrative about what ADHD is.
There’s a takeaway about getting ADHD-related information from YouTube, or any online resource for that matter. When there are claims being made about what ADHD is, or about the science behind ADHD, make sure you know what the sources for those claims are.
It’s important to know where claims about ADHD are coming from, which is one reason you’ll see me linking to lots of research studies on this blog. If someone says “according to scientists…” or “studies have found…”, make sure they’re actually telling you the specific studies that back up their claims!
I do think there’s a place for subjective content about ADHD. Videos in which ADHDers describe their personal experiences are helpful to other ADHDers, even if the videos don’t provide any explicitly educational content. I know when I first got diagnosed with ADHD, it was empowering just to discover that there were other people out there experiencing similar things as me. It’s great that ADHDers can take to the internet and share their firsthand experiences, and you don’t need to cite any sources for that!
When it comes to using online content like YouTube videos to learn about the science behind ADHD, however, that’s when it becomes important to think critically about where information is coming from. When vloggers, bloggers, or anyone else starts making claims about ADHD as a condition, remember to ask yourself what the basis for those claims is!