Mental Health Spotlight: What Every Woman Should Know About ADHD
ADHD may be more commonly undiagnosed and untreated in women
By Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, Chief Medical Officer, LifeStance Health
As a mental health clinician, I’m deeply passionate about reducing the stigma around all mental health conditions and bringing awareness to the fact that there’s no one face to mental health. This is particularly true for ADHD, and with October marking ADHD Awareness Month, I believe this is an important opportunity to address misconceptions about the condition as well as how we can be advocates for those experiencing ADHD.
While ADHD can affect anyone, I believe it’s particularly crucial to bring understanding to how the symptoms may go undiagnosed or even unnoticed among women, which can in turn lead to other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
The Barriers to an ADHD Diagnosis
It’s important to recognize that, on average, women experiencing ADHD will see an average of 2.2 clinicians and try approximately 6.6 different types of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications before they receive an ADHD diagnosis.
Why? Most people are familiar with what is called hyperactive or impulsive ADHD, which is associated with symptoms of restlessness, impulsivity, mood swings, etc. However, many women experience inattentive ADHD, which is associated with different symptoms like difficulty staying organized, remembering details, focusing, etc.
While going undiagnosed may be more common among women, it’s important to remember that men can also be misdiagnosed, delaying their ability to receive the proper treatment so they can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Undiagnosed Girls Grow Up to be Undiagnosed Women
Early intervention and prevention in mental health is critical, and I’m very encouraged by the increasing destigmatization of mental health among youth. As a parent myself, I’m seeing that school systems are more aware and there is more acceptance around adolescent mental health, as well as increased psychological testing that allows us to catch mental health conditions earlier on.
This is critically important, as undiagnosed and untreated ADHD in girls can lead to anxiety and depression. If these girls’ symptoms go unnoticed, they likely don’t have the understanding or help and support to understand why they are taking longer than their peers to complete homework assignments or understanding academics. They may think they are not as “smart” and experience symptoms of insecurity and low self-esteem, which can lead to depression. They may also experience significant symptoms of anxiety as they worry about getting their work done on time, not missing assignments or concepts in class, etc. I also believe that one of the leading causes of suicide in adolescents is in part due to ADHD-related impulsivity, which is important to be cognizant of.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
ADHD comes in three presentations: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive or a combination of the two. With inattentiveness, someone may find it hard to focus, pay attention to details, stay organized, listen and remember things. For those who are unfamiliar with ADHD, certain characteristics of inattentive ADHD like shyness may be mistaken for personality traits rather than symptoms.
Symptoms of ADHD in women may include:
- Difficulty focusing on tasks and attention to detail
- Easily distracted
- Feelings of indecision when faced with many choices
- Losing personal belongings
Treatment Options for ADHD
It’s reported that people with ADHD incur a 9-year reduction of life expectancy, creating even more urgency around getting the correct diagnosis in a timely way to start treating it effectively.
It’s important to reach out to a mental health professional if you are experiencing any symptoms of ADHD. They will be able to listen compassionately and support you with determining the best course of action for your specific situation.
While there are many treatment options available in managing ADHD, stimulant medication is often considered the gold standard and front-line approach. 75% of patients find success with stimulant therapy. Additionally, there are psychotherapists who specialize in ADHD and can support patients who are interested in alternatives for stimulant treatments.
5 Helpful Tips for Working Through Your ADHD
There are a number of free and low-cost techniques that can be supportive if you’re experiencing symptoms of ADHD. Some of my favorites are:
- Keep a hard copy planner: Make lists and get in the habit of writing important details or to-do’s down.
- Design the right workspace: At home, eliminating as many distractions as possible can be very helpful when it comes to focusing on schoolwork or professional work. I recommend people designate a quiet corner of their home, away from things like TVs, to support focus.
- Meditate and/or journal: Journaling and meditation are great ways to become more present. Studies show that a regular meditation practice can help individuals feel less depressed and anxious and increase their ability to focus on tasks.
- Say no: It’s okay not to decline invitations and pare down your obligations to whatever feels manageable to you. Being overcommitted can contribute to feeling overwhelmed.
- Try a coloring book: Coloring books for adults have gained popularity and can be soothing for those experiencing ADHD symptoms.