61: Lost Keys and Cultural Stigma

Lost Keys and Cultural Stigma with René Brooks-Guthridge

61: Lost Keys and Cultural Stigma

with René Brooks-Guthridge, blogger, writer

Writer and blogger René Brooks-Guthridge offers perspective on some of the reasons why people may avoid or be apprehensive toward issues of mental health. With her family, relatives, and often others in her community reluctant to acknowledge ADHD as a concern, René talks about how social stigmas resulting from cultural history, alongside generational differences, may have lead to the current situation, and why vulnerability and transparency may be the start toward a solution.

Timeliness and Setting Boundaries:

  • Despite having a set of relatively well-known goals set out for her today, René’s day went awry when a few of them didn’t go as planned. On top of that, a friend called and asked if she could help out with more work.

  • Eric: I make sure my “blinders” are on; I rarely answer phone calls or respond to notifications that aren’t already scheduled in.

  • René: I have very persistent people in my life. If they call me and are directed to voicemail, they’ll then call my husband, my house, and my cell phone again in a cycle until they talk to me.

  • It might be best to have a conversation about setting boundaries with certain people at that point.

  • It can be extremely challenging for people with ADHD to stop in the middle of one task, address an interruption, and return to the original task right where they left off.

  • Eric and René both admit having challenges with keeping phone calls short.

René’s Blog Black Girl, Lost Keys:

  • René went on a search for resources aimed at African Americans dealing with ADHD or other mental illnesses.

  • In learning more about mental illness, René was lead to discuss with people why this situation was present.

  • Eventually, after receiving a tepid response, and finding almost next to nothing in the way of other resources, René decided to write about her thoughts online in the hopes that she could help others in similar situations.

  • René’s mother and grandmother, who read her blog regularly, will occasionally call her to talk about posts; René is often surprised they weren’t more aware of what she was feeling as a child.

  • In sharing her story, René received feedback from readers about how similar it was to their lives.

  • René: We need everybody to join hands and come together to de-stigmatize this because it’s a problem.

School Struggles and Misinformation:

  • René ran into consistent roadblocks with her homework, often spending four or five hours per night sitting in one spot to complete it.

  • When trying to address René’s ADHD, the school’s administrators and staff went about it in a way that was very alienating to her mother: they had René tested for ADHD without first informing her family, and then sprung the news on her mother via a group meeting.

  • René  thinks her mother may have felt the school was trying to bully her into medicating her child.

  • At the time, there were rumors and misinformation abound, which may have contributed further to her mother’s apprehensions.

  • Years later, when asked, René’s mother told her that she had been diagnosed at a younger age by her private school. Her mother never acted on it, instead holding feelings  of resentment toward the teacher who had mentioned it.

Social Stigmas and Representation on ADHD:

  • René: Maybe the reason there’s a stereotype of only white people having ADHD is because they’re virtually the only ones talking about it.

  • Eric: Attending the ADHD- and mental illness-oriented conferences, they’re comprised of a vast majority of white people. Considering these mental illnesses don’t affect races any differently than one another, this raises the question of why the attendance is so disproportionate.

  • Within René’s family, she feels somewhat like the black sheep for being so open about her ADHD.

  • There are many families René knows that have deep histories of mental illness. René wonders if perhaps some don’t discuss their mental states for fear of showing weakness.

  • A long history exists in the US of people in the medical industry mistreating and experimenting on black people, including using slaves as test subjects and intentionally allowing syphilis to persist in a population.

  • “When you take a community that’s been experimented on and lied to and discriminated against, and you tell them . . . you’re coming to them as this authority figure and saying ‘there’s something wrong with your child and therefore we’re going to put him on medicine,’ they’re going to balk at that.”

  • René’s mother, upon hearing of the ADHD diagnosis, deferred to René’s normal pediatrician who dismissed the findings and just recommended adding to René’s responsibilities. René feels this had the effect opposite of helping her.

  • Left untreated, René’s ADHD later lead to poor self esteem and many instances of hitting “walls” across her life in academics, marriage, her professional career, as a result of anxiety, and more.

  • There may be an expectation among people in the black community that, after a history of slavery and oppression, they need to be strong, resilient, and to keep pushing harder to survive so that future generations have a better life.

  • Another element at play for some could be a feeling of resentment across generations about how much one had to work to attain what they have now.

  • Eric mentions an editorial by ADHD researcher Dr. Russell Barkley that cited a German manuscript from the 1700s mentioning what is now called ADHD. The physician who authored the manuscript was shunned from his community for providing excuse to those with poor moral character.


  • In some cases, maybe an individual actually had ADHD, angrily struggled with it throughout their lives, and now feels others receiving treatment for it, especially via medicine, are taking an unnecessary shortcut.

  • Emotion tends to play a huge part in how people make decisions, even in light of known facts and figures. It’s important to keep our emotional biases in mind

  • Even after reading extensive research on vaccinations and finding no link to autism, Eric still felt feelings of reservation before vaccinating his son.

Vulnerability and ADHD Management:

  • René: Often, people with ADHD will make jokes about their mistakes or about having superpowers and that may be why some neurotypical people don’t take the disorder seriously. We’re so ashamed of certain qualities we have that we’re afraid to expose or be vulnerable about these things that we’re struggling with for real.

  • Many with ADHD try to use wit or comedy to cover their inner turmoil and shame at the problems they have throughout their lives.

  • Eric, after listening to the audio-book 10% Happier, has been exploring mindfulness-based meditation as a way to identify and address negative thoughts.

  • René actually began treatment for her ADHD only following receiving treatment for depression, during which she mentioned her childhood diagnosis.

  • Though she began taking medication, René soon realized she still needed help managing her behaviors, like hyperfocus.

  • Eric: Although some people may decide they want to take advantage of hyperfocus for their work or creativity, they might need to schedule out days of time to accommodate for it. Ideally, the goal of ADHD management is to even out the ups and downs normally associated with the disorder, and hyperfocus usually makes them less even.

Random Question Round:

  • What invention would you like to see made?

  • If you were asked to create a puppet-based children’s show, what would you call it and what would its premise be?

Relevant Links:

Find and Contact René Brooks-Guthridge:

Other information:

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  • Help CHADD, an ADHD organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with ADHD through useful research and support, by donating to their fundraising campaign here:

  • Visit for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top audio-book picks, complete with preview links.

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1 thought on “61: Lost Keys and Cultural Stigma”

  1. I really like this podcast and have posted it as a cultural artifact in my multicultural graduate school class. It’s also been personally helpful because you all have discussed how difficult it is to cope with our own mistakes and not beat ourselves up.


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