Sanctum Healthcare • Feb 1 •
Why are more women and girls currently getting diagnosed with ADHD?
Historically, ADHD was perceived as predominantly a male disorder, with men and boys diagnosed far more frequently than women and girls. Due to this, our medical structures are still to this day based on the knowledge that ADHD presents the same in both males and females.
It is thought that only 4.9% of women will be diagnosed with the neurological disorder in their lifetime, compared to 12% of men and with over 1.5 million adults in the UK today affected by ADHD, that’s a lot of women left undiagnosed and having to navigate feelings and impulsivities alone.
There is, however, currently a rise in the number of women and girls gaining an ADHD diagnosis and this is ultimately due to an improved awareness in general and advances in science that can differentiate ADHD symptoms between males and females. We are becoming more accepting of a way of being that is thought not to be “normal” and breaking down historical stereotypes.
Let’s look at how signs and symptoms of ADHD appear in both males and females and how this can lead to a misdiagnosis in women and girls.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD – men & boys vs. women & girls
|Men & Boys||Women & Girls|
|Impulsivity or “acting-out”||Appearing withdrawn|
|Hyperactivity||Low self-esteem & anxiety|
|Inability to sit still||Inattentiveness or “daydreaming”|
|Physical aggression||Trouble focusing|
|Lack of focus||Appearing not to listen|
|Excessive talking||Verbal aggression|
|Frequently interrupting others||Difficulty with academics|
As you can see from the above lists, ADHD in men and boys appears more physical, with not being able to sit still, hyperactivity and physical aggression compared to that of women and girls, where their ADHD is related more to their mind and appearance. Not being able to listen or focus and appearing to daydream being typical female ADHD behaviour.
With this list, it’s easy to see why so many women and girls go undiagnosed with ADHD, as their symptoms are less obvious. ADHD also used to be perceived as a childhood disorder, based on the hallmark of hyperactivity, so particularly women will go undiagnosed for a very long time, if not for their entire lives.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD in girls, in school, social and home environments
For children, ADHD is categorised into two types of behavioural problems: Inattentiveness and Hyperactivity & Impulsiveness and signs usually present themselves before the age of six in more than one situation, such as school and home life. For girls, however, inattentiveness tends to be the main behavioural problem, with the below symptoms appearing at the forefront:
- Difficulty organising a task and feeling the need to constantly change it
- Forgetfulness, making mistakes with schoolwork, not completing homework on time
- Losing and misplacing things often around the home
- Easily distracted and has a short attention span in the classroom
- Finding it difficult to listen to instructions and carry out tasks
- Inability to stick to a task if it is time-consuming
These are just a few examples of ADHD presenting in girls. In the school room, it can be particularly difficult for girls to concentrate and understand what is being asked of them. At home, girls can find it difficult organising themselves to leave the house and ensure they have all their belongings, and socially, girls can find it difficult to join in conversations, appearing not to listen and daydreaming, leaving them feeling excluded and not part of the group.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD in women, in work, social and home environments
For women, ADHD generally has the same behavioural problems, but they present in different settings and having dealt with the symptoms for longer, women tend to be well-practised at hiding or overpowering their ADHD symptoms, often moving further away from their true selves. Examples of how ADHD can present in women-
- The chatty one in social situations often feels shy but nerves push them to talk excessively
- Often interrupting others’ conversations
- Appearing more social than others.
- Difficulty organising tasks at work
- Having a negative sense of self and dealing with anxiety and depression
- Perfectionist tendencies
Sometimes women’s difficulties can often be mistaken for being hormonal. At puberty, monthly hormone fluctuations bring high levels of oestrogen and progesterone, enhancing neurotransmitters and improving cognitive functioning following menstruation. However, when these hormones drop after menstruation, many women often feel irritable along with disrupted sleep, concentration, and mood functions, as well as an exacerbation of ADHD symptoms, which can easily lead to a diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD), without any consideration of ADHD.
Many women also feel the need to conform to gender roles, which can cause a great deal of stress on top of ADHD symptoms. Tasks such as organising family outings, getting children ready for school on time, and making dinner for the family can leave women feeling overwhelmed and frantic, which also leads to low self-esteem and a negative sense of self.
How ADHD in women and girls can be a superpower
If you or someone you know has recently had an ADHD diagnosis or has strong suspicions that you or they might have ADHD, it can be an overwhelming and scary time. Not knowing what lies ahead and how it may impact your life, how to adapt and what the best course of action to take is. Or you may be thinking that ADHD is part of you, it doesn’t change anything for you, it is already who you are and part of your personality and can almost definitely be seen as your superpower.
Women and girls with ADHD tend to be more sensitive than men and they experience more hypersensitivities, but this can also mean they have an abundance of empathy and compassion, something that is very much needed today. They may also be great problem-solvers, with their brain on a constant loop of ping-pong thoughts. They may also have endless imagination and creativity, making them fun to be around, as well as a cracking sense of humour. Perseverance may also be their strong suit, as they will be well-practised at working twice as hard as their peers to appear “normal” and work through school and workplace situations, not to mention their ability to multi-task and laser-focus.
Speak to an ADHD psychiatrist at a specialist ADHD clinic
In short, women and girls with ADHD can learn to reframe their experiences and embrace their unique strengths and aptitudes and celebrate their non-linear thinking and creativity and possibly take the first steps toward understanding their uniqueness. Gaining an ADHD assessment and diagnosis could be a step forward and at Sanctum, we understand the stress and overwhelm attached to this condition. If undiagnosed, life can feel isolating and confusing.
We can provide you with bespoke treatment and a comprehensive assessment process to ensure we conduct full clinical due diligence that includes assessment, diagnosis, treatment, management, and transfer of care.
Sanctum provides a wealth of high-end wellness services and an ultra-personalised approach, ensuring that 100% of our attention is on you. So, if you would like to contact one of our ADHD psychiatrists about an assessment and possible diagnosis, or to talk over ADHD treatment plans, get in touch today.
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