Girls and young women are much less likely to be diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) than men, and that’s actually a significant mental health concern.
According to an article in Knowable Magazine by Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, experts at one point believed that ADHD was nine times more likely to occur for boys, rather than girls. While this ratio has since been debunked, boys are still diagnosed at 2.5 times the rate of girls—however, there is no actual data to suggest that ADHD is more likely to affect males instead of females. This means that, although diagnosis has picked up in the past several years for girls, there are likely many young girls and women who have ADHD and go undiagnosed.
The fact that women tend to get diagnosed much later in life than men lends credence to this claim. While the National Institute of Mental Health reports that people with ADHD are normally diagnosed in early childhood around the age of six, girls tend to get diagnosed later in life, usually around the time that they go to college.
Still, it may seem like this gap in diagnosis rates may seem trivial, especially when compared to other mental health concerns and learning differences, such as depression or dyslexia.
Putting aside this popular assumption that ADHD isn’t as serious or difficult as it actually can be for people, it also turns out that girls and women with undiagnosed ADHD can experience serious consequences on mental health and even physical health as a result.
A cartoon of a woman feeling overwhelmed with assignments while at work. For women with undiagnosed ADHD, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and work schedule can be that much harder, causing anxiety and feelings of depression to also develop.
How ADHD Affects Women
Part of the reason why women tend to go underdiagnosed for ADHD has to do with how this condition manifests for them.
Many women with ADHD tend to be inattentive rather than hyperactive. Since boys tend towards hyperactivity when they have ADHD, it’s much easier to spot and diagnose. Therefore, ADHD often goes unrecognized for children and young adults who are inattentive.
People with inattentive ADHD still struggle with the same symptoms, however. Difficulty with planning, finances, procrastination, and maintaining focus are all issues that have been reported by women with ADHD, and can make their lives harder—especially if they’re unaware of what they’re actually dealing with.
Women with ADHD, for example, are also at risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders. They also may endure eating disorders, obesity, and chronic low self-esteem issues. They may also struggle with substance abuse, and are often also struggling with other learning differences or mental health disorders, as ADHD often coexists with other conditions.
A young girl and boy sit across from each other while doing schoolwork. While symptoms of ADHD are sometimes much easier to recognize in boys, girls can also exhibit symptoms, so it’s important for teachers and parents to stay vigilant and involved.
How To Address the Problem
While the lower diagnosis rate for girls and women is a systemic issue, it’s also a concern for individuals who suspect that they may have ADHD.
Girls and women who significantly struggle with paying attention, maintaining focus, and time management should consider looking into ADHD symptoms. If these symptoms match up with behaviors and issues that they struggle with, then they should consider seeking out a diagnosis. Although it can be difficult to get such a diagnosis, it also opens up avenues for appropriately dealing with this condition, including therapies and medications.
Additionally, parents and teachers of young students should stay on the lookout for these symptoms in their students. While boys may be easier to diagnose, girls can also exhibit these symptoms if adults know what to look for.
Women may face more challenges with ADHD, but it’s also a manageable disorder. ADHD, like other mental health issues, can be addressed and resolved so that it doesn’t negatively impact or overtake people’s lives.
So, stay vigilant, know when to ask for help, and talk to others. It may just be that you or someone you know is struggling with something as common as ADHD, but it’s just gone undiagnosed or ignored for years.