Unlocking ADHD Writers, Jnanee Krishnasamy and Constance Thum, shed light on what ADHD is like in adult women and why many women tend to be diagnosed late.
Women are frequently lauded as everyday superheroes, and with good reason. Many women juggle their careers with running a household, raising their children, and caring for their elderly parents.
However, it is a myth that all women can strike a perfect work-life balance. Some struggle with organising their outfits and sock drawers, let alone an entire household. Others forget about their appointments all the time. Many start tasks at work, and frequently fail to follow through.
These women are subjected to all sorts of invectives – “bird-brain”, “scatterbrained”, “messy”, “lazy” or even “stupid”. They are invariably compared to their better-performing peers by their (usually) well-meaning relatives, teachers and bosses. “Why can’t you just try harder and be like your peers?!” would have been a constantly-repeated phrase over the years.
“Misunderstood” is an apt word to describe these women. It may sound like a cop-out, but it is what it is. ADHD in girls is frequently misunderstood, missed and misdiagnosed by psychologists. As a result, these girls encounter difficulties that persist throughout their lives.
This article talks about symptoms of ADHD in adult women. It also sheds some light on the plight of undiagnosed women. You may be reading this because you feel that you or a loved one may have slipped through the cracks. If you do, parts of this article (or even all of it) may resonate with you.
Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are three times as likely to be diagnosed as girls. However, girls are just as susceptible to ADHD as boys. Whereas boys are more prone to the ‘hyperactive’ subtype of ADHD, girls tend to be more prone to the ‘inattentive’ subtype. ADHD is often diagnosed later for adult women, a possible reason being that ADHD females tend to internalise their issues rather than ADHD males who “act out” and externalise their issues.
ADHD signs that adult women may take note of are:
- Feeling overwhelmed easily and overstimulated beyond control
- Being overly fixated on things like time, money, possessions, etc. that prevent long term goals from being reached
- Difficulty with details and organisation
- Feeling out of control and helpless
- Achievements fall short of capabilities, talents, or potential
- Forgetting trivial details
- Unable to lead consistent, regular lives
- Constantly feeling tense and unable to relax
- Being perceived as lazy and distracted, and feelings of inadequacy
Obfuscation: Secondary Mental Health Issues
A 2017 study reported that adults with ADHD are three times more likely to develop major depressive disorder (MDD), six times more likely to develop dysthymia, and more than four times more likely to have a mood disorder.
Undiagnosed ADHDers are more likely to experience repeated failure, frustration and anxiety. By adulthood, most undiagnosed women develop a secondary mood disorder (depression, anxiety) that further masks the ADHD. ADHD can involve a deficiency in adrenaline levels. Anxiety is a maladaptive mechanism. Maladaptive mechanisms spiral out of control.
Too Little, Too Late: Delayed Diagnoses
Many undiagnosed women frequently visit psychiatrists when they are in crisis. A lost job, a divorce, a criminal charge – ironic consequences of having compensated up to adulthood. These women have coped, until they simply could not.
Secondary psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression are easily picked up, but the underlying ADHD is frequently overlooked – until it gets discovered either by chance, or by a psychiatrist who understands ADHD in adult women. Comorbidities in ADHD women, which refer to the presence of a primary condition such as ADHD and one or more secondary conditions like depression or anxiety, may compound the symptoms of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity in ADHD females.
Trainwreck: The Impact of Undiagnosed ADHD
There are serious physical and mental health outcomes for women with undiagnosed ADHD. Undiagnosed women tend to earn less than their peers and are less likely to have stable employment. In addition, there is a higher chance for them to become alcoholics, have unplanned pregnancies or even land in jail. In a study, an astounding 23.5% of women with ADHD even reported that they had attempted suicide before, as opposed to 3.3% of women without ADHD.
Shine a Light: Advocating for more Research
An ADHD diagnosis may be a surprise and a relief for many adult women who have struggled silently throughout the years.. However, these women may recollect their past struggles with sadness and wonder if these could have been avoided. Who can blame them?
There is a dire need for more research on ADHD. With knowledge comes the power to avoid damaged and ruined lives, and give undiagnosed girls and women the help that they need to succeed.