What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words ADHD? Chances are it’s a child, most people picture a male, running around and disturbing a class. And while the stereotype is somewhat true, and many more boys are diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in childhood compared to their female peers, it’s not the whole picture. In recent years, the ADHD in women diagnosis rates have been rising.
Whether these diagnoses are a result of ADHD that has either emerged in adulthood or been missed since childhood is up for debate, however, what is clear is that late diagnosis can leave women feeling like they are struggling, misunderstood, or even failing at life. And even when they finally get seen by a mental health professional, it is usually to investigate a co-occurring condition.
Due to the growing numbers of women raising the issue, both to mental health professionals and on social media platforms such as TikTok, there is more awareness around the issue than ever before. Even mental health professionals are looking at how ADHD in women, especially in adulthood, can be improved. So, what do you need to know about ADHD in women and what does the latest research tell us?
What is ADHD?
Let’s start with the basics—what is ADHD? ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a mental health disorder that affects over 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults in the US today. Often known by its symptoms—inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity— ADHD isn’t just about misbehaving in class; it’s so much more.
Untreated ADHD can persist into adulthood and cause wider-reaching mental health issues, including anxiety, lack of satisfaction with life, and others, which affect a person’s ability to function and have good mental health in the long term.
ADHD in women symptoms
Like almost all mental health issues, diagnosing ADHD isn’t usually just as simple as making one visit to the doctor and done. In fact, the diagnosis process may take some time as a number of tests and sessions need to be run to ensure the diagnosis is accurate and the right treatment plan started. However, this is not a reason to be deterred—getting the right diagnosis is crucial to treating symptoms.
Diagnosing ADHD in women often poses a particular challenge both for women and their providers. Many women find themselves left on the edges of society confused about just what seems to be “wrong.”
But just why are women getting diagnosed so late?
Early in their lives, women may miss being diagnosed as they do not display the same typical ADHD symptoms that we have come to recognize—rowdy behavior, unsettled, unable to concentrate.
For women, this can present entirely differently, for example, being an overachiever or an excellent communicator, or they may be diagnosed with something else entirely such as anxiety or depression, making it difficult to diagnose underlying ADHD. Alternatively, many young women mask their symptoms unintentionally, and this makes getting access to the right help a challenge for all involved.
So then, what should we look out for, and how can we recognize ADHD when we see it? According to the DSM-5, ADHD in adult women often falls under these two categories and their related behaviors.
- Continuous careless mistakes and not paying attention to detail
- Failure to following direct instruction
- Generally forgetful
- Loss of interest in tasks/activities after some time
- Easily distracted
- Doesn’t always seem to be listening
- Doesn’t pay attention
- Not very organized in day-to-day life
- Fidgets a lot
- Can’t remain seated for a long time
- Often restless
- Always “on-the-go”
- Talks a lot
- Can’t wait their turn
- Often interrupts or blurts out answers
- Can’t relax and engage in calming activities
Note. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, you’ll likely be displaying several of these symptoms consistently across a variety of settings—home, work, with friends, etc.
TikTok trend or mental health problem
If you’re on social networks, you’ve probably seen the numerous videos talking about how women got diagnosed with adult ADHD. So, is this just another trend or part of a wider movement into better mental health? We like to believe it’s the latter.
There is no “hype” when it comes to mental illness, just good mental health awareness.
The more women, and people in general, who are open about mental health and its challenge, the better it is for everyone. By reducing the stigma of mental health, we can focus on better treatment, more successful outcomes, and, in generally, more happiness all around.
Additionally, by sharing experiences, we can learn some of the lesser-known indicators of ADHD in women. For example, here are some of those lesser-known ADHD experiences.
Lesser-known ADHD symptom experiences
- Hyperfocus—do you find yourself fascinated by new projects often but then tend to lose interest quickly? Do you learn a bunch of new skills from chess to knitting to baking for no particular reason but never stick to them? Or can you block everything out to complete tasks? This is hyperfocus and it may be a sign of ADHD
- “Overly” sensitive— Does criticism and critique overtly affect you? Do you feel rejected or ashamed? Or maybe you’re not as proud as you should be of your achievements and want more?
- Trouble sleeping— Between insomnia or sleeping too much and chronic fatigue, you may find yourself wondering if there really is a secret to good sleep?
- Problems managing time— Running behind on deadlines, always struggling to catch up, or constantly late for appointments? If it seems your sense of time is wrapped, this may be a sign that something isn’t quite ok.
- Impulsivity, especially online shopping—Click and in the basket. It goes. Whether it’s a new plushie toy or the latest tack on Amazon—you MUST have it! Often you may find yourself making impulsive purchases that go against the health of your bank account.
- Can’t stand to be bored— You always have to be doing something, whether that is going for a walk, starting a new course, or trying something new, it’s a must-do always for you.
Note. The above statements are not diagnostic criteria. These are self-reported symptoms of actual people with ADHD and may help you decide if they apply to you and if now is the time to get in touch with a mental health professional.
What to do if you think you have ADHD?
First of all, remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of. ADHD is not uncommon, and you are not alone. Next, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get assessed. In doing so, you will get the help you need to manage your condition and live your best life. In the meantime, try not to worry or jump to conclusions. Instead, take a deep breath and get the help you need.