Facing ADHD and being a woman

It’s a well-known fact it’s much harder for women with ADHD to get a diagnosis. In fact, men are three times more likely to get one!

Partly due to ADHD often presenting differently (disorganised, scattered, forgetful…) it’s much easier to overlook and just say “oh that’s just what they’re like…”.  

I know for me, my school reports were basically a list of ADHD symptoms: 

“Holly has issues keeping organised”

“Holly has a major struggle with SPAG* but seems to do just fine with the rest of English. If only we could get her to write things down clearly”

“when reading out loud there seems to be a present stutter or struggle”

“Holly has been put in detention for doodling again. This needs to stop.” 

*Spelling, punctuation and grammar

The list goes on and it does make me wonder: With such clear signs, if I was born a boy would I have had this struggle?

It’s been brought up that women “are just like that”.

Girls are just chatty, girls like playing with their hair, girls hate getting dirty… 

If she is different to “normal” she’s just “quirky” or fits into the “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype when older: the best example of this character is Ramona Flowers from “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”. 

Its also been suggested that women will display ADHD symptoms that are very similar to depression and anxiety which leads to many incorrect diagnoses.

If we look into this further on the NHS website we can see both anxiety and depression are listed as symptoms for teens. 

I know for myself as a teen I had both of these but looking back a large portion was caused by being “different” and not being able to do “simple” tasks. All of this being pointed out on a regular basis definitely had an effect on my mental health at the time which raises the question:

Is it a symptom of ADHD or is it a symptom of a broken education system?

There has also been a thought link between hormones and ADHD, having your ADHD change through puberty, menopause, going on different birth controls, period, etc… this comes with a change of strategies and/or medication.

I hadn’t even thought about this until one of those 3am Google binges because it was never mentioned to me, but totally makes sense! I have 100% experienced those changes.

This article talks about a range of ages experience with ADHD. The range of data seems to be very scattered for women with ADHD. It could also be attributed to the fact hormone levels and period cycles are not accounted for when research is taken. 

Because of this, I decided to do some research of my own. I asked in the celebrate difference Facebook group where the general age range is slightly older. Multiple people agreed they definitely felt a change in their ADHD when going through menopause and when their period cycle starts.

I then decided to go on do some more research to find out even more about a younger audience. I had a real issue finding research on puberty and ADHD from the actual young woman’s perspective. 

The results were very interesting:

Everybody agreed that they displayed signs of ADHD before puberty, but due to puberty it got way more intense. One person said they felt hormonal birth control made their ADHD “worse”, another said it made their already emotional brain more emotional. When on their period all felt ADHD was more intense. No one thought there was enough information on any of this.

The other gap in research was around trans people who go on hormones: If you are trans and ADHD do you start to display more traditionally feminine/masculine ADHD rates, does it affect your brain etc…

All that being said it’s becoming way more common for women to get diagnosed, still much later than it should be and far fewer women. 

In fact, the NHS data says, in 2019/2020, that 100,000 men were diagnosed while less than half that number for women, landing at 33,000.

I think there is a very positive and bright future ahead for women with ADHD: with a little more time, education and support there will be more diagnoses for younger girls and support set up for all women with ADHD.