Not all diagnoses are created equal: Mothers’ narratives of children, ADHD, and comorbid diagnoses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social research examining patients' and caretakers' narration of mental disorders, including ADHD, has been remarkably silent about comorbidity. Centering the theme of uncertainty and the question of what is “at stake” in mothers' mental health narratives of children (Kleinman, 1988), we characterize the patchwork process by which mothers deploy ADHD and comorbid diagnoses to account for key experiences and struggles in their and their child's lives. We found that ADHD had limited purchase in accounting for the emotional and social difficulties that were most urgent in mothers' narratives, despite the medical authority behind the ADHD label, which the mothers mostly accepted. However, mothers remained pervasively uncertain about the relationship between ADHD and comorbid mental health conditions, paralleling debates on the relationship between ADHD, emotion, and comorbidity in the psychiatric and psychological literature. Our findings contribute a conceptualization of comorbidity as a web of diverse moral vocabularies, institutional outcomes and perceptions of personhood, through which mothers of ADHD children maneuver over time. Through this perspective we illustrate how ADHD is co-constructed as a narrow neurological problem of ‘attention,’ and demonstrate the overlooked and crucial ways that comorbidity may shape parents' pragmatic and interpretive negotiation of ADHD. Kleinman, Arthur. (1988). The illness narratives: Suffering, healing, and the human condition. New York: Basic Books.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115838
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Children
  • Comorbidity
  • Israel
  • Mothers
  • Narrative
  • Sociology of diagnosis
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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