Sam Thompson’s “I’m a Celeb” Win Should Just be the Beginning for ADHD Representation

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When former “Made in Chelsea” star Sam Thompson was crowned the winner of ITV’s “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here” 2023 on 10 December, I initially felt overjoyed. Not only because his infectious personality, unequivocal love of Ant and Dec, and boundless enthusiasm for the show itself made the nation smile, but because he has been hailed as the first person with ADHD and autism (who has been diagnosed) to take the crown; a watershed moment.

A condition under the neurodiversity umbrella, ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a developmental impairment of the brain’s executive functions that can involve struggles with impulse control, focus, organisation, and emotional dysregulation. I was diagnosed in November 2021, at the age of 23, after years of debilitating symptoms. When I was growing up, I had little to no understanding of what ADHD was. I’d only ever seen it used to describe the hyperactive, so-called “naughty” boys in my class that, with their symptoms presenting more outwardly, rendered daydreamers like me forgotten about.

Throughout Thompson’s time in the jungle, he was seen conversing with his campmates about his diagnosis, which he only received last year at the age of 30. “When the low bits happen, it goes low,” he told fellow contestants Marvin Humes and Josie Gibson on one occasion. “But then the highs are really high,” he added, an experience which Gibson noted he wouldn’t be himself without.

“When I was growing up, I had little to no understanding of what ADHD was.”

I cannot overstate how rare it is to see conversations like this happen so candidly. If I’d been exposed to an inch of media representation when I was a little girl, I might’ve uncovered the truth sooner, and nowadays, seeing celebrities like Paris Hilton, Olivia Attwood, and Cat Burns discuss their diagnoses in the public sphere is a welcome reassurance that we’re moving in the right direction. Representation equates to awareness, and we’re increasingly seeing that positive correlation, a conversation that has no doubt been further opened up – and complicated – by Thompson’s win.

The media hasn’t always been on the side of the ADHD community – and that’s why such public advocates for awareness are so fundamental. In February 2023, The Daily Mail argued that ADHD was being “overdiagnosed”, with a string of similar sentiments reflected elsewhere in newspapers. Together, these various media campaigns sought to undo the work that we, as a community, had come so far with, pinning the blame not on chronically underfunded medical services, but instead on us for daring to speak out.

That’s why Thompson’s win on a primetime entertainment show like “I’m a Celeb” is so vital for educating the public on the condition. It’s a show that attracts the masses and those who may not have tuned into documentaries about the condition previously. “So nice to see positive awareness of ADHD for a change .. @SamThompsonUK was my king from day dot he did fantastic,” one user on X, formerly Twitter, wrote. Another added, “Sam Thompson won’t see your tweets about the excitability and unfiltered energy that made you love him in #ImACeleb. But your friends with ADHD might.”

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However, it’s important to acknowledge that Thompson’s win is a little bittersweet. In May 2023, his Channel 4 documentary, “Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD?” aired. Though it brought ADHD further into public consciousness, writer Demi Colleen posed questions to Thompson about the lack of diverse voices involved, noting that she would have loved to have seen a focus on “women, Black and POC and poorer people.” She was met with a rebuttal, with Thompson reportedly writing on X: “You’re the problem. I live with ADHD just as much as you or anyone else does, and I have just as much of a right to talk about it as anyone else.”

“I didn’t realise wanting more diverse representation in the media for ADHD would be so triggering for someone who is the default for it,” Colleen wrote on Instagram of the experience. “Everyone should share their stories but when it’s the same narrative over and over, recognise and use your privilege to uplift the voices of those who are underrepresented, don’t just slot them in for a few minutes but attack them on social media for pointing it out.”

“The king of the jungle is a start, but let’s now unlock the full story.”

Colleen is right, and her questions were valid: Thompson should never have attacked her so publicly for voicing an opinion, least of all one which spoke to the chronic under-diagnosis of Black and POC women with ADHD. According to data from the ADHD Foundation, an estimated 423,000 girls in the UK under the age of 18 have ADHD but are three times less likely than boys to be diagnosed and supported. Meanwhile, both children and adults from non-white backgrounds are impeded from accessing formal ADHD diagnoses, with studies in the US published in the National Library of Medicine having concluded that Black women are significantly under-diagnosed. Thompson later acknowledged his privilege to the Metro and spoke of his hopes for more diversity in the space going forward.

So, let’s use Thompson’s win as a jumping-off point. Let’s acknowledge the diverse voices that are out there and remember that ADHD isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience: symptoms vary, as does privilege and access to treatment. There can’t be one universal voice for ADHD. To propel forward, we need to centre the voices of Black, POC women, of non-binary people, of those from lower income backgrounds, too. The king of the jungle is a start, but let’s now unlock the full story.

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