Misunderstood: The Dilemma of Women with ADHD


Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that influences the behavior of the millions of people that have it. Though ADHD is commonly associated with children, particularly since it is one of the most common mental disorders among children, it has an apparent presence among the adult population (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). About 2.8% percent of adults worldwide are diagnosed with ADHD, but the prevalence between men and women differs significantly (ADHD Institute). While 12.9% of men are diagnosed, only 4.9% of women are diagnosed (Broadbent, 2020). Even though there is an observable difference in the ADHD diagnosis between the sexes, that does not necessarily signify that more men have ADHD than women. In fact, statistics present the separate problem that ADHD is staggeringly misunderstood in women. 

To address misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis in adult women, it is necessary to point out the disregard and underdiagnosis of young girls with ADHD. Like with ADHD in adults, there is a reported higher prevalence of diagnosis and treatment among young boys than young girls, with studies revealing the ratio between males to females ranging from 2:1 to 10:1 (Slobodin, O., & Davidovitch, M. 2019). In general, the defining and most noticeable characteristics of ADHD include symptoms of the Hyperactive/Impulsive Type of ADHD, noted by constant motion, difficulty waiting for one’s turn, etc. Young boys are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with this type than girls (Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.). The more subtle characteristics of the inattentive type are more common in young girls (noted by short attention span, forgetfulness, daydreaming, etc.) and are often attributed to their personalities rather than a disorder (Low, 2020). This can lead to a diagnosis much later in life when they are well into adulthood or no diagnosis at all, ultimately causing much more damage to their livelihood. 

A major contributing factor to the disparity in diagnosis and treatment of ADHD between men and women is the definition of ADHD itself. ADHD was first defined and described as a group of behaviors that were observed in young boys with more of the symptoms of the hyperactive type. Doctors assume this to be ADHD and, as a result of this, girls are much less likely to be diagnosed unless they display the hyperactive characteristics. Many doctors and mental health counselors aren’t trained to recognize ADHD in women, and are instead primarily familiar with the typical hyperactive depiction, further complicating the existing sex disproportion (Broadbent, 2020). 

With symptoms overlooked in childhood, daily activities can become increasingly difficult as girls with ADHD transition into adulthood. Symptoms that may not have had a visible or particularly negative impact in childhood can have an apparent detrimental effect on aspects of their lives. On top of having their symptoms dismissed, women seeking help may be misdiagnosed for a separate disorder, often anxiety or depression. Though the development of those disorders may have arisen as a result of the impact from their undiagnosed ADHD (Broadbent, 2020). 

Despite the lack of research specifically on women who have ADHD, the pattern of the discrepancy between diagnosis of men and women is important to recognize. Fortunately, both awareness of ADHD in women and the difference in how ADHD may present in women, have been increasing. However, the widespread tropes of ADHD still need to be eradicated, and it is time mental healthcare providers receive proper training and information. With this, we can get to a future where many women and young girls may finally feel seen and get treatment for their symptoms, and no longer be misunderstood. 

 

References

ADHD Epidemiology. (2019, April 10). ADHD Institute.  

Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (adhd) in children. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (adhd). (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health.

Broadbent, E. (2020, December 14). Too few doctors screen women for adhd – and we deserve better. ADDitute Magazine. 

Low, K. (2020, December 02). Why many women with adhd remain undiagnosed. Very Well Mind.

Slobodin, O., & Davidovitch, M. (2019, December 02). Gender differences in objective and subjective measures of adhd among clinic-referred children. 

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