What’s behind the rise in ADHD diagnoses?

rise in ADHD diagnoses

Right now, it’s common to hear the phrase “everyone has ADHD these days”. On TikTok, videos tagged #ADHD have been viewed more than 11bn times: it certainly feels like ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) is having a moment.

The idea that ADHD is on the rise is not just anecdotal: NHS stats published recently show almost a 20 per cent increase in both the number of identified patients and the number of ADHD drugs being prescribed compared to the same quarter last year.

It’s easy to dismiss this increase as being a current trend: ADHD is certainly a dominant trend on TikTok, and it could be assumed that many people (especially teenagers and young adults) are simply ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ which is causing numbers of ADHD diagnoses to soar.

However, rather than neurodiversity simply being the latest TikTok trend (and a handy solution when it comes to explaining cognitive quirks or justifying behaviour), the true causes behind the rise in ADHD diagnoses is more complex.

Firstly, what is ADHD?

Let’s briefly define exactly what ADHD is. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that affects people’s behaviour. There are three subtypes of ADHD: the first is characterised by hyperactivity and impulsivity, the second inattentiveness, and the third combined. It can affect a person’s ability to concentrate, sustain attention and control impulsive behaviour.

What exactly is behind the rise in ADHD diagnoses?

The COVID-19 Pandemic

There is some anecdotal indication that ADHD diagnoses may have accelerated during the pandemic. In a survey published by ADDitude magazine, more than a quarter of the 2,365 adult respondents reported that they were given a formal ADHD diagnosis within the pandemic period. While it’s not clear exactly what may have caused this rise in ADHD diagnoses, it could be attributed to symptoms worsening over the pandemic due to anxiety and a complete change of routine, which led to more people seeking an ADHD assessment.

Social Media

As discussed previously, it would be easy to dismiss the rise in ADHD diagnoses as simply being a social media trend. However, in actuality it is a little more complex than social media having created a trend that people simply ‘jump on’. Obtaining an ADHD diagnosis isn’t as simple as seeing a trend on social media and deciding that’s “like you”; rather, the assessment process for ADHD is extremely complex and considered. No ADHD clinic would diagnose a patient as having ADHD without undertaking a full assessment first.

Instead, it seems to be the case that more social media users are now having their eyes opened to the condition thanks to posts from content creators who have ADHD themselves, or posts from ADHD psychiatrists explaining the condition. The conversation has become more open and widespread, which means more people are becoming aware of ADHD and wondering if it might apply to them. This ADHD curiosity has led to an upswing in people seeking ADHD assessments, and the increase in assessments will naturally result in an increase in positive diagnoses too. In short, the rising prevalence of the disorder isn’t so much a fad fueled by social media overexposure, but rather the effect of awareness increasing via these channels.


Awareness of women’s health

The increase in ADHD diagnoses has also coincided with a significant growth in awareness around ADHD in women and girls, who have historically been under-diagnosed with the condition. ADHD can present differently in females than it does in males, and in the past the focus has predominantly been much more on typically ‘male’ symptoms. Girls with ADHD may be quieter, less disruptive, and more adept at masking their symptoms. In older girls and young women, ADHD may also be mistaken for anxiety or other mental health conditions. This has meant that boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed.

Over the last two to three years, we’ve seen an increase in awareness about how ADHD affects women and girls. On top of this, we’ve seen a lot more stories about high-profile and celebrity women talking about being diagnosed with ADHD. In 2018 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also updated its guidelines on the diagnosis and management of ADHD, advising doctors to: “be aware that ADHD is thought to be under-recognised in girls and women”, which has no doubt helped to increase the number of GPs referring women for assessments.

What we may well be seeing now is ADHD diagnoses in women finally catching up, which could account for the rise in ADHD diagnoses overall. Annual NHS prescribing data, published in July, shows the number of female patients being prescribed medication for ADHD has more than doubled in recent years, from 25,000 in 2015/16 to almost 58,000 in 2021/22. 

Specialist ADHD Assessment and Diagnosis Clinic

Sanctum is a specialist ADHD clinic offering a comprehensive, multi-professional assessment for adults and children who may have ADHD. Sanctum’s diagnostic team all have specialist experience of assessing and supporting individuals with ADHD.

Private ADHD clinics such as Sanctum understand that individuals can struggle to live full and happy lives as a result of undiagnosed ADHD, and for that reason long NHS waiting lists are just not an option. This is why private ADHD clinics aim to provide rapid access to assessment.

If you would like to speak to Sanctum’s friendly team about obtaining an ADHD assessment, you can get in touch here. 

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