Undiagnosed ADHD in Women

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you might be familiar with Luna Lovegood, the girl who was bullied because people found her strange. She often got distracted and spacey, which you may realize, are some symptoms of inattentive ADHD. Her vulnerability, bravery, and loyalty led to the affection of Hermione, Ron, Harry, and plenty of Potterheads and muggles around the world. 

Unfortunately, many women often don’t get the same type of support and recognition she did. According to numerous studies, plenty of women live their lives with undiagnosed ADHD.

This leads to numerous problems, starting with damaging effects on women’s health, mental health, and well-being.

Through research, we have discovered that there are layers to this issue, so in today’s video, let’s dive deep into the topic of undiagnosed ADHD in women. Read until the end to discover the ADHD symptom checklist for adult women!

DISCLAIMER: This article is for informative purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please contact a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist if you are struggling.

STATISTICS

ADHD in women: Symptoms, testing, and more
Source: Infographic by Diego Sabogal for MedicalNewsToday https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-in-women

Let’s start with the numbers. We mentioned that plenty of women live with undiagnosed ADHD. Exactly how many women are we talking about?

Four years ago, according to ADHD by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You by Kimberly Holland, males were already three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Over the years, the numbers increased. In June 2022, an ADHD in Women article by Denise Brodey revealed that instead of three, men in the US are now four times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. In other countries, cases of women with ADHD may appear to be lower in number, but this is likely due to women and girls not being included in their research methodology, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.

By now, you may be noticing the ongoing pattern. Why is there such a discrepancy between the two sexes? Let’s find out next.

MISDIAGNOSES AND UNDERTREATMENT

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Did you know that the diagnostic criteria for ADHD will more likely identify ADHD in boys rather than girls?

This is one interesting piece of information that isn’t discussed much. According to Dr. Kathleen Nadeau who specializes in the psychological treatment of women and girls, it’s because the criteria was mainly developed through observing boys!

To back this up, a 2020 study from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands  concluded that there are hardly any investigations about the varying effects of ADHD drug medications on different sexes. For decades, women have been excluded from numerous research and discussions. Due to this, they are consistently undertreated.

If you’re learning a lot from this article, please don’t forget to react, comment, or share! Your support means a lot to us.

Now, let’s proceed to:

THE IMPACT

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One may argue that ADHD is more severe in women than it is in men.

Let’s take a look at different factors to understand why.

The hormonal effects.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/kids-making-noise-and-disturbing-mom-working-at-home-4474035/

Earlier, we mentioned that fluctuations in women’s hormones intensify ADHD symptoms. Let’s have menopause as an example. According to Laura McCarthy, writer of Women, Hormones, and ADHD, around menopause, women’s estrogen levels drop about 65 percent, causing a decrease in serotonin and dopamine, also known as the happy hormones. When this happens, the already apparent symptoms of irritability, fatigue, and memory lapses become even more pronounced, causing difficulty for women to concentrate and make rational decisions.

The social effects.

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It’s no secret that women have complex social roles in society. Traditional gender roles dictate that women are generally encouraged to display emotions, be nurturing, stay accommodating, and remain polite. This can generate an unhealthy amount of pressure for them to act a certain way even if they’re not inclined to do so.

For example, since inattentive ADHD is more common in women, they may overwork to hide the symptoms of forgetfulness and distractibility in order to not be deemed lazy. Without a proper diagnosis, you can imagine how these “unexplained” symptoms may cause marriage difficulties, relationship conflicts, dating struggles, and trouble making friends. All of these not only negatively impact women’s quality of life but also the state of their mental health, too.

Trigger warning: The next point may be triggering to those who are sensitive to suicide and self-harm topics. Please proceed with caution. You can go straight to this timestamp to skip this part.

The mental health impacts.

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After the previous point, it’s not difficult to imagine that due to social pressure, women may get a tendency to internalize their ADHD symptoms rather than seek help. The current lack of understanding of ADHD in women likely contributes to a societal climate that makes women feel anxious and doubtful of their own condition.

Sadly, that isn’t even the worst part. Most alarmingly, girls and women with ADHD have been shown to be at higher risk of self-harm than women without the disorder.

The Berkeley Girls with ADHD Longitudinal Study (BGALS) began in the mid-1990s and continuously examines 140 girls diagnosed with ADHD during childhood. After 10 years, the girls with an ADHD diagnosis “were twice as likely to report self-harming behaviors like cutting, and three times as likely to have made a serious suicide attempt”, according to Child Mind Institute.

Not only that, in the book Understanding Girls with ADHD, Dr. Ellen Littman states that since girls tend to hold all these negative feelings of anxiety, fear, and frustration in, nobody is usually aware of what they’re going through until it’s too late. It becomes a life-long struggle that starts from childhood, extends to womanhood, and may even get worse in older adulthood years.

It’s truly heartbreaking that girls and women all over the world are experiencing this. Our heart goes out to all of them and to the people who are trying their best to extend help. We have listed some online ADHD sources and platforms in the description below to better help the cause.

In the comment sections of our videos, we’ve also noticed that plenty of you feel like you have ADHD but aren’t quite sure of it yet. We hope this next part can help.

AN ADHD SYMPTOM CHECKLIST FOR ADULT WOMEN

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A good reason why ADHD in women goes undiagnosed is that their symptoms are more subtle and can manifest in a totally different way. This is why it remains crucial for them to get the treatment they deserve, especially for a condition that was once considered exclusively male.

Here are some symptoms of ADHD in Women, compiled by Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists:

  1. Are you hypersensitive to noises or smells?
  2. Do you daydream or have a so-called “mom brain”?
  3. Do you often lack motivation with day-to-day tasks?
  4. Do you have a tendency to be insecure a lot?
  5. Are you struggling with low self-esteem?
  6. Do you find yourself easily emotional?
  7. Do you have trouble listening?

If you’re continuously struggling with these symptoms or even the normal symptoms of ADHD, we highly encourage you to consult a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist to get an accurate diagnosis.

There is always a way to give and receive help, starting with proper education about this topic. Feel free to click on 6 Signs and Symptoms Of ADHD to learn more!

REFERENCES

ADDitude Editors. (2022, November 17). The Best Web Resources for Women with ADHD. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/best-web-resources-for-adhd-women/

Biederman, J., Faraone, S. V., Mick, E., Williamson, S., Wilens, T. E., Spencer, T. J., Weber, W., Jetton, J., Kraus, I., Pert, J., & Zallen, B. (1999, August). Clinical correlates of ADHD in females: findings from a large group of girls ascertained from pediatric and psychiatric referral sources. NIH. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10434488/

Bradley, C. (2021). “Dopamine” vs. “Serotonin”: The Difference Between These Happy Hormones. In Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/e/dopamine-oxytocin-serotonin-endorphins/

Brodey, D. (2022, June 27). ADHD in Women: Surprising Differences, Big Impact. PSYCOM. https://www.psycom.net/adhd/adhd-in-women

CHADD. (2022, March 18). An Introduction to ADHD in Women and Girls. https://chadd.org/for-adults/an-introduction-to-adhd-in-women-and-girls/

Child Mind Institute. (2012, August 16). ADHD Puts Girls at Higher Risk for Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts. https://childmind.org/blog/adhd-puts-girls-at-higher-risk-for-self-harm-suicide-attempts/

Gender Identity & Roles | Feminine Traits & Stereotypes. (n.d.). Planned Parenthood. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/sex-gender-identity/what-are-gender-roles-and-stereotypes

Holland, K. (2018, July 24). ADHD by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/facts-statistics-infographic

Kok, F., Groen, Y., Fuermaier, A., & Tucha, O. (2020, September 18). The female side of pharmacotherapy for ADHD—A systematic literature review. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0239257

Low, K. (2022, July 28). Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Women. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/add-symptoms-in-women-20394

McCarthy, L. F., & Novotni, M., PhD. (2022, November 17). Women, Hormones, and ADHD. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/women-hormones-and-adhd/

Meikle, K. (n.d.). Overworking Effects on Physical and Mental Health. Passport Health USA. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.passporthealthusa.com/employer-solutions/blog/2019-2-overworking-affect-physical-and-mental-health/

O’Grady, S., & Hinshaw, S. (2021, January). Long-term outcomes of females with ADHD: increased risk for self-harm. NIH. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7867565/

O’Grady, S. M., & Hinshaw, S. (2020, October 6). Long-term outcomes of females with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: increased risk for self-harm | The British Journal of Psychiatry. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/longterm-outcomes-of-females-with-attentiondeficit-hyperactivity-disorder-increased-risk-for-selfharm/0FE8F694A99CE585A004D9302C1C6119

Owens, E., Zalecki, C., & Hinshaw, S. (2016, October). 7 The Berkeley Girls with ADHD Longitudinal Study. OXFORD Academic. https://academic.oup.com/book/24338/chapter-abstract/187179282?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Owens, E., Zalecki, C., & Hinshaw, S. (2017). The Berkeley Girls with ADHD Longitudinal Study. APA PsycNet. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-47824-007

Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists. (2022, September 9). Female ADHD Test: Symptoms Checklist for Women. https://pnsoc.com/blog/female-adhd-test

Polanczyk, G., de Lima, M., Horta, B., Biederman, J., & Rohde, L. (2007, June 1). Psychiatry Online. The American Journal of Psychiatry. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/action/cookieAbsent

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