When thinking about ADHD, a very clear image appears: a young boy, often white and around 10 years old, running around a classroom or fidgeting or playing pranks and making life hard for his guardians or his teachers by not paying attention in school or at home.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been given many names over the years, at times being conflated with other learning disabilities. It is found in nearly 9% of children and is often diagnosed in boys younger than 12 years old, more rarely in girls according to research. But what happens to these children when they grow up?
Studies have suggested that only 2% of the adult population have symptoms of ADHD, but effects on their mental health are often severe and not given the attention required. Women are especially likely to feel these effects, as well as have an extra toll on their mental health due to responsibilities assigned.
Something not often discussed in mainstream conversations are the different presentations that ADHD can have, hyperactive pres
entation and inattentive presentation. Inattentive people are described as restless much like hyperactive people, but it’s focused internally and presents as racing thoughts, difficulty focusing, and disorganised thoughts among other symptoms. This presentation can cause children and later adults who deal with it to slip through the cracks, and it’s the one that women tend to display.
Are there gender differences in ADHD?
Disclaimer, even though people with ADHD may have a higher chance of being transgender, most of the existing research revolves around cis people. This is a limitation, but hopefully more research will paint a fuller picture in the future.
It’s important to remember that while ADHD isn’t inherently different between men and women, due to the way we are raised different genders may deal with their symptoms differently. Men and boys are likely to get help earlier in life, while women are often diagnosed later, so they must handle domestic responsibilities until it gets overwhelming. It may also have to do with how much ADHD impacts their studies. Someone who is so hyperactive that they need one on one teachers and extra help will be very different from someone who does alright at school and gets by with mediocre grades but is often caught being distracted.
Women are often part of the latter group, symptoms of ADHD can manifest as time blindness, struggle to focus unless they’re interested in the topic, perfectionism combined with forgotten projects, overspending and getting overwhelmed by shopping trips, as well as social problems like Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (a feeling of intense pain in your chest at the thought of doing something wrong), talking over people frequently and struggling to maintain friendships over time.
Women and ADHD
These symptoms alone can cause a lot of stress, and it can make women think that they should hide this side of theirs from their relationships, this is where the concept of masking comes into play. This is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the concept of hiding one’s neurodivergent traits like a mask and covering them by acting in a way that will be seen as “normal”. During school years this may be mainly to avoid being seen as different and bullied, and many women with ADHD depend on it as a coping strategy for most of their lives.
Women tend to deal with larger workloads than men in the home, especially when in heterosexual relationships and/or they have children. Taking care of the domestic side of the family has been treated like a woman’s job for hundreds of years, and so there is a lot that women must think about. From feeding, dressing and doing homework with their children to organising family trips to keeping a clean home, there is a lot on a modern woman’s plate.
This stress is more intense when the woman has ADHD, because taking care of themselves and keeping their house tidy feels like a struggle, but in this case taking care of an entire family on top of that adds to the feelings of potentially letting family and friends down. These feelings are more intense thanks to RSD, a part of ADHD that is often ignored. Even when a woman does recognise that her symptoms are like those of other women with ADHD and tries to get help with it, she is often misdiagnosed.
These are all examples of issues taken from forums and pages where women can talk about these issues without being judged. Though they are only anecdotes, there are repeated patterns in many of these posts and they need to be taken seriously, especially since a lot of these women are experiencing/about to experience burnout.
Resources and help, are they available?
Historically there has been a lack of knowledge surrounding ADHD, especially in women. Very often, even if those resources do exist, they are often aimed at parents of children with ADHD, with no thought to the idea that the adult reading it may need advice too. Recently channels online such as the YouTube channel “How to ADHD” and many different creators on TikTok that use hashtags like “adhdtok” have shared tips and tricks to dealing with the condition to their large audience. This has been very helpful for women with ADHD to recognise their symptoms and get help. The goal eventually is to reach a point where it will be quite easy to get help for ADHD with things such as access to medication and regular therapy.
In summary, having ADHD can be a toll on someone’s mental health, especially if the number of responsibilities one has feel as though they are too much to handle. This is often the case for women with the condition, and anecdotes often share similar patterns to one another. Having ADHD can be an asset if worked around rather than hidden, and women who deal with it need support from friends and family before, during and after burnout. We are not lazy, and we are not tied to our productivity, we just need help.