It’s no secret that much of the information we have on health, especially mental health, comes from research on cis men.
This means that many of the criteria around mental health and well-being only apply to half of the population. Because of this, cis women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are often left in the dust.
According to the United States National Institute of Mental Health Data, 3.2% of female adults aged 18-44 have a current ADHD diagnosis, versus 5.4% of males. That’s only people who are currently diagnosed. Think of how many fly under the radar due to a lack of mental health care, resources, or because they don’t want a diagnosis.
Many cases of ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, in females go undetected because the symptoms don’t always show up in the same way as they do for males. This leaves many people without the tools and resources they need to better navigate through the world with.
ADHD Differences in Females
One of the reasons so many cases of ADHD in females have been missed is because ADHD was previously thought to only affect males. This means that teachers, parents, and health care professionals didn’t even consider it a possibility, and wrote off females who were experiencing symptoms.
Another reason is that ADHD tends to show up differently in females than males.
In many cases, the symptoms of ADHD are most apparent while people are in school. Teachers reporting this behavior is often the start of people with ADHD getting the support they need. Males are more likely to have symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity, while females are more likely to be inattentive.
These symptoms are much less obvious because they don’t tend to cause a disruption, however, that also means females and girls don’t get the same early diagnosis that their male classmates do.
The most common symptoms of ADHD in adult females include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Trouble paying attention to details
- Having a hard time listening and remembering things
- Poor time management
- Extreme talkativeness
- Easily distracted by noise and people
- Difficulty relaxing
- Frequent mood swings
- Critically comparing yourself to those around you
- Having a hard time reaching your goals
- Sadness, anxiety, frustration
- Easily overwhelmed and emotional
- Feeling shy and overwhelmed in social situations
- Difficulty maintaining friendships and relationships
- Difficulty managing finances and bills
- Impulsive spending and decisions
These symptoms are often chalked up to being personality traits, and not characteristics of ADHD. This prevents many females from getting an ADHD diagnosis when they’re young, and often receive a misdiagnosis for another mental health disorder as they get older.
It’s not uncommon for adults with ADHD to experience comorbidity of multiple mental health disorders like substance abuse, anxiety, sleep, mood, and eating disorders.
Why is ADHD Diagnosis Important?
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis isn’t just about a label, it’s about accessing tools and resources to be able to better navigate in the world.
It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD, specifically women, to feel out of control of their lives, or like they can’t keep up with daily tasks and chores. This is not a personality flaw on their part, but them not getting the support they need to achieve their goals.
Having school and work built around capitalist ideals tends to only serve specific types of people. People whose brains function differently, like those with ADHD, oftentimes have difficulty adapting and thriving in these systems. This is why they might feel like they can’t get ahead in life or are always scrambling to keep up with the smallest of tasks.
For women who went much of their life without a diagnosis, finally receiving one can be life-changing. Their experience of the world might finally feel affirmed, as they realize that they are not flawed, their brain just works in a particular way. Imagine how much that change in outlook can alter the course of your life.
Not only is it affirming, but these females are then able to gain access to tools and resources so that they can better operate in society. This allows them to get extra support in work, school, or wherever they need it.
Other tools that adult females with ADHD may benefit from include:
- Mobile apps and checklists for organization
- Therapy and counseling
- Medication like stimulants or antidepressants if desired
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Have set routines
- Trial and error organization symptoms that work for you
- Ask for help from those around you
- Join a support group
- Have an appointment book or mobile calendar to track everything
Getting an ADHD diagnosis finally gives many adult females the chance to figure out what tools they need to navigate through the world in a way that works for them. This helps to break the stigma around mental health and set them up for success as they move forward in life.
Whether or not someone wants to receive an official diagnosis is totally up to them, but even just being aware of these symptoms and tools can help someone who may have adult ADHD.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.