Psychotherapist Philippa Perry warns ADHD is becoming a ‘fashionable’ mental health ‘buzzword’ amid a rise in diagnoses – and says it’s driven by ‘social contagion’

Grayson Perry’s wife Philippa has warned it is now ‘fashionable’ to have ADHD, adding she is ‘worried’ by the increased number of people being diagnosed with the condition.

The mother-of-one, 65, who lives in Islington, revealed her belief that some people claim to have the condition if they are forgetful or restless as a way of avoiding ‘self-responsibility’.

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder is recognised by the NHS as a condition that affects people’s behaviour and can cause them to act on impulse. It can also be linked to sleep and anxiety disorders. 

Clarifying her comments in a later post on X (formerly known as Twitter), Philippa stressed that she is not denying the existence of ADHD, but believes it should not be ‘self-diagnosed’. She added: ‘We are more than our diagnoses.’

The psychotherapist, who has been married to the artist Grayson Perry for more than 30 years, told The Times there is a danger that ‘buzzwords’ can become ‘part of someone’s identity’.

Psychotherapist Philippa Perry, 65, has warned there is a danger of ADHD being a ‘fashionable’ term which people are using to avoid ‘self-responsibility’

She argued that, where ADHD is currently the mental health term on everyone’s lips, it has taken over from bipolar disorder, which was once the ‘fashionable’ condition to have.  

Philippa said: ‘It’s social contagion that drives this. You don’t know where your keys are. It doesn’t mean you’ve got ADHD. You can’t sit still. That doesn’t mean you’ve got ADHD… 

‘I get a little worried. I’m not saying all labels are bad, I’m saying some labels give you an excuse not to take self-responsibility.’

After reading her comments, people with ADHD took to X to criticise the psychotherapist. One person, who claims to have both ADHD and autism, wrote: ‘We are a group of disabled people that have been repeatedly let down and we deserve better.’

Philippa was quick to clarify her comments about the mental health condition in response. She posted: ‘Oh dear. I’ve upset a lot of people. I didn’t mean to. I’m not saying ADHD doesn’t exist, I’m saying it shouldn’t be an identity and it shouldn’t be self-diagnosed. 

‘We are more than our diagnoses – that’s what I’m trying to say.’

Research carried out by University College London between 2000 and 2018 found that there has been a significant rise in the number of people diagnosed with ADHD.

Philippa, who has been married to artist husband Grayson for more than 30 years, said she doesn't think all labels are bad

Philippa, who has been married to artist husband Grayson for more than 30 years, said she doesn’t think all labels are bad

Around 20 times more people were diagnosed with the condition on 2018 compared to 2000, with diagnoses around two times higher in more deprived areas.

Dr Doug McKechnie, UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, who authored the report, said: ‘ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for ADHD medication by a GP have become more common over time.

What is ADHD?

According to the NHS, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects how people behave.

It is often characterised by restlessness, difficulty concentrating and impulsive acts.

The cause of the condition is unknown, but some studies suggest it may run in families. 

ADHD is usually diagnosed in children under the age of 12, although in some cases, it is not diagnosed until adulthood.

Treatment for the condition includes medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Source: NHS 

‘Whilst ADHD is most likely to be diagnosed in childhood, an increasing number of people are diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. We do not know exactly why this is happening, but it may be that ADHD has become better recognised and diagnosed.’

Philippa, who herself has dyslexia, argued that she might prefer to refer to herself as someone who doesn’t understand words very well, rather than giving a label to her condition.

Elsewhere in the interview, Philippa recalled how she was determined ‘thick’ as a child because she struggled with reading.

After growing up in Cheshire and attending boarding school from the ages of 10-15, Philippa’s parents sent her to finishing school in Switzerland – to the same institution attended by Princess Diana.

She joked that her parents wanted her to meet a wealthy young man and marry well, thinking it would be her best chance of succeeding in life.

Although she noted her scepticism in the ‘fashionable’ terms within the lexicon of mental health, Philippa made a strong argument for attending therapy, which she believes is beneficial to many people – and stressed her hope that politicians would one day be open to seeking it.

She revealed she first sought therapy in her early 30s, not long after she first met husband Grayson. 

As for her marriage to the artist, who is known for cross-dressing as alter ego Claire, Philippa has previously revealed that she and her husband hardly ever argue.

We do have our differences!’ said Philippa, speaking to The Times. ‘Quite a lot. But then we work out how much I can stand, how much he can stand, who can stand it the most, who can stand it the least.

And from that, if we’re both kind of fair-minded, we can find a compromise.’

The author, whose husband often appears in public, as well as in his own artwork as his alter ego, explained that most people experience relationship problems because they dwell on petty facts, when they should just be honest and express how they’re feeling.

‘It’s such a waste of love when people don’t know how to argue properly,’ she said. ‘Don’t talk about facts, talk about feelings.’ 

Philippa went on to say how the first month of the initial lockdown came as a relief to her as she was able to clear her diary which had ‘got a bit out of control’ and was causing her to get ‘quite stressed’.

However, as time progressed and the novelty wore off, she admitted to ‘not doing well under lockdown, at all’.

But for Philippa, the problem stemmed from a physical crisis rather than psychological factors – adding that she and Grayson reacted to the news of government guidelines very differently.

‘I went, “Phew!” And Grayson went, “Well, I live in the future. My plans are what get me out of bed in the morning. Now I’ve got nothing.”’

And then he really learnt all this stuff about appreciating the everyday, living in the moment, all of that.

‘But I — Mrs Therapist-Pants — went the other way. Because my body needs to be around other bodies. The rule I find the most difficult is the two-metre rule.’

Philippa also recalled bursting into tears when her daughter Flo, 28, dropped a bag of food shopping on her doorstep.

She went on to explain that while she knew the important reason as to why Flo didn’t hug her, her body made up its own reason and interpreted it as a form of rejection.

Philippa and Grayson married in 1992 and have one daughter, Florence together.