Living as a woman with ADHD in 2023 is incredibly tough. We can feel misunderstood, undervalued, and at worst, discriminated against. Many of us struggle with mental and physical ill- health as a result of years of being told we are lazy, rude and inconsiderate. And sadly, professionals who are supposed to help us are often misinformed, overworked and seem disinterested in learning about our condition. It is an isolating, lonely and scary place, that all too often feels hopeless.
Until the 1980s, ADHD was predominantly a diagnosis given to disruptive hyperactive boys with the belief that it was a childhood condition rarely found in girls. At this time, the ratio of boys to girls diagnosed was 25:1. In the 1980s, the addition of inattentive criteria should have made it a level playing field for boys and girls, but the criteria (as is common) were still male-focussed. Girls and women are also more likely to be socially conditioned to mask their symptoms in public arenas such as work and school, only allowing themselves to be their true selves at home. Today the diagnosis ratio is closer to 3:1 boys to girls. Girls and women are likely to be diagnosed 5 years later on average and often their traits are mistaken for depression and or anxiety¹.
But the differences do not stop here. For women, we have the added complexity of our hormones: Our menstrual cycle and menopause can all play a part in how our ADHD manifests itself. Oestrogen has been proven to have a considerable impact on the parts of our brain responsible for our ADHD². So at certain times of the month and lives, our ADHD traits can be more challenging than others. It can feel like the world is against us.
On top of all this, society is not kind to us either. Women in our community often report having their diagnosis dismissed, even by those closest to them. Often people can say that we are using it as an excuse, and some talk of family members who share similar traits denying their diagnosis because it is too hard for them to consider that the challenges they themselves have faced all their lives have a name and that it is not “normal” to feel this way. At work, we often do not disclose our diagnosis for fear that we might be discriminated against, dismissed or passed over for a promotion³.
At Connections in Mind it is our mission to change all this, to inform the wider population about ADHD and it’s associated executive functioning challenges; you can read more about my personal mission here. I also invite you to join me and my colleagues at ADHD 360 Dr Phil Anderton and Lisa Mangle next Wednesday 22rd of March at 8pm as we discuss this important and often neglected topic. The webinar is free and open to anyone who would like to join us. All you need to do is register for your place on our cimlearning.com website. A recording will be available for all who register but we do recommend joining us live in order to get the most out of the event.
1. Nussbaum, N. L. (2012) ‘ADHD and Female Specific Concerns: A Review of the Literature and Clinical Implications’, Journal of Attention Disorders, 16(2), pp. 87–100.
2. Jacobs E, & D’Esposito M. (2011). Estrogen shapes dopamine-dependent cognitive processes: implications for women’s health. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(14), 5286-5293.
3. Brouwers, E.P.M., Joosen, M.C.W., van Zelst, C. et al. (2020). To Disclose or Not to Disclose: A Multi-stakeholder Focus Group Study on Mental Health Issues in the Work Environment. J Occup Rehabil 30, 84–92