Women with ADHD: No More Suffering in Silence
Research shows that ADHD exacts a greater toll on women than it does on men. Clinicians need a different set of tools for diagnosing and treating the disorder across genders — and women deserve a better understanding of how the disorder affects them.
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16 Comments: Women with ADHD: No More Suffering in Silence
Many years ago, I had to come to grips with my ADHD. I joined a support group (pre-COVID) and was stunned to hear these women talk about getting some help through contracted organizers, adhd assistants, etc. At the same time, they felt ashamed to have to rely on such help — to the point where most of the meeting was dedicated to discussing and mitigating this shame. So… I shared that at the time, I sat next to the executive assistant to my boss, the VP of Product at a well established cyber security company. I heard her organizing his schedule, taking and deflecting calls on his behalf, reminding him about appointments, work-related and personal, reminders about his kids skating classes, and so on. She was essentially functioning as an ADHD assistant! Of course, her boss being an extroverted male in a position of power, nobody would think of shaming him for that service. yet here I was, surrounded by countless women feeling shame for the exact same help they were getting!
Wow. I hate that this is apparently the common experience. We deserve better, even if we don’t believe it ourselves.
I’ve been very frustrated with how publications and information sources for people with ADD (and the professionals who help them) have overlooked women, and I’m delighted to see this article. It delves into some of the specific issues that make living with ADD challenging for women, without reducing us to wives and mothers. I’m so sick of the typical ADD discourse that doesn’t go any further than, “ADD is different for women because PERIODS and because it’s more difficult to keep our houses clean.” I’m much more complex than that, thank you. This article goes much further though.
To the editors of Attitude: I hope this article represents is shift in your coverage of gender issues for adults with ADD. We are not children. Many of us struggle even after being diagnosed. The havoc the changes in hormones can bring to our symptoms and experiences at midlife are serious and must be addressed. The article notes that women spend 1/3 of their lives post menopause and that research must focus on the impact of hormones on symptoms. But what about popular publications such as this? It starts here too. Tell me how fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone influence the effectiveness of stimulants used to treat ADD. Give us information that we can show our clinicians to help us make better choices about hormonal birth control and hormone therapy. Give me information that I can use to help those who treat me. Help me advocate for myself. Show me that the lives and minds of middle-aged (and older) women living with ADD are important and worth reporting on.
I struggle so much. I am 56 and my whole life has been crazy. I need someone who understands me. My male partner gets so mad because i am messy when i cook or bake or make beeswax products. I clean up but not quick enough. My spirit is crushed. How can I get him to understand? Someone pleade help.
This is me exactly, under the radar as a kid, (the hyperactivity was in my head) now I’m 47 with a 5 and a 10 year old…(10yr old adhd/asd) I have not been officially diagnosed because I thought just by knowing I have ADHD that was enough, but it’s not.
I’ve felt chronic stress for years and every sense is hypersensitive, it makes me constantly cranky with my kids. So I was wondering if there are meds that deal especially with the stress/anxiety aspect? because I think I can handle the rest, I just can’t stand being constantly snappy with my kids, even I don’t want to be around me…
This article was one of the most important validating and clarifying articles I’ve come across in a long time. I am a 55-year old woman who was diagnosed with ADHD only 6 years ago. As a child, I learned to do exactly what this article says that women do. I saw the same behavior in my mother. I got into so much trouble as a kid in school, and I really had no idea what I was doing wrong. As I grew older I learned the hard way to conform or simply not be accepted in neurotypical society. To this day I often keep quiet for fear of overreacting, although I am learning (still often the hard way) to modulate my passion and express myself in a way that people will hear me. I compensate by expending every ounce of energy I have to run our home, when the tasks are much easier for neurotypicals, but I give myself no credit for it, and when I screw up I blame myself. I also am just learning how to speak about my unique nervous system with ADHD without feeling like I’m making bullshit excuses. I needed to see and read this article to have these things clarified for me. Thank you Dr. Ellen Littman and to ADDitude magazine for publishing it. I hope to see many more articles on this topic.
Thank you so so much for writing this article! It perfectly verbalized what I’ve gone through as a woman who was miss-diagnosed at age 20 and put on horrible meds for bipolar disorder… Because I was a loud high-energy “all-over-the-place” female. The HORROR right? It took me 5 yrs of mushed brain chemistry but I was lucky to have eventually found a wonderful female mental health practitioner who got me on the right dosage of ADD meds and eventually worked with me to teach me how to be a happy, functioning adult with or without medication. Keep shedding light on this issue! We owe it to our little girls to get this right.
This article is good writing, yet it’s a first aid cream for raw injury. I am scrutinized for having medication and belittled when I take my meds, then someone steals them. I am no thief, yet I am made to feel guilty if I walk away with a paper clip or pen at work. The crappy deal is that I feel like the scape goat. They steal from me.
I had some of the ADHD symptoms before diagnosis and meds, not all of the symptoms. The medicine helped, just like the pot people who claimed pot help them. I am treated bad. When I had bulimia I was treated like a child, then rewarded for recovering and now I can’t get the bully off of me. It’s like a game oftornado bully for the sport of breaking my recovery down. And now thing is to make me quit taking adhd med’s. What are they going to do for sport after the initial recovery, all jump on me and beat me?
Oh I hope you got help. I have a daughter that died from a heart arrhythmia as a result of never being diagnosed and treated. Learn to lie like the junkies do if you have to in order to get the medication and do not skip the counseling. One does not work without the other. You are not going to get the right meds if you have a prior abuse problem which is cruel beyond belief. They will give you something with less than a 40% chance of working instead of amphetamines that work 88% of the time. I look at it like showing up at the emergency room with a shattered leg and having the doctors say “you walk around for a year and we will consider treating you. If you volunteer that pot helps, which it can, they are not supposed to give you the medicine. It is extremely hard to get the medicine even if the doctor wants to help. I hope this gets to you. Peace and Love
I agree heartily that women are diagnosed less than men. It also seems to be true that the better the screening the higher the percent of women found. I have also not heard any biological explanation of why men would be 2-3 times more likely to have the disorder. I had symptoms of what I thought was anxiety and I seem to be overly sensitive. I found something on this site that gave me a clue that my “anxiety” was really just a hyperactive mind. Long story short I was able after a difficult process to try the medication and confirm a diagnosis of ADHD. This happened at age 60 and if I had not had the typical “boy” symptoms when I was six I would not have gotten treatment because I or my prescribers never would have known. Look for hyperactivity in other forms in women! There is no longer a diagnosis for ADD for a reason, if you don’t have any form of hyperactivity you don’t have the disorder according to the people that decide this. Anxiety and sensitivity is just too easily dismissed as “womens” problems. Treatment has been life changing for me and women should have the same opportunity. Anti depressants were a disaster for me and I was pretty much ordered to try them before they would give me the right medicine.
There seems to be a huge jump in women claiming to either having a ‘terrible time’ with ADD partners or now ‘suffering in silence’. It’s a proven fact men generally suffer with this condition at a lot higher percentages than women, but it seems the ladies are getting far more vocal about how hard it is for them and how terrible the men are to live with, deal with, understand. I’m not trying to make this a competition but out of either gender we as males are expected to ,deal with it’ whereas women get the softly softly help.
To be honest and accurate you would have to say men are diagnosed more often than women. When hard studies are done with accurate diagnosis women have the same rate as men. As per the norm women will have different display of symptoms and much more commonly have their concerns dismissed. Boys tend to have the classic symptoms that have been adopted as diagnosis criteria. Girls were more likely to be labeled with just attention deficit because doctors didn’t and mostly still don’t know how hyperactivity displays in girls and women. There is no longer a diagnosis of just ADD because there is always a hyperactive component. I cannot say for sure how girls and women would diagnose differently, but I can describe how ADHD affected me as testosterone normally drops with age. I was a child before ADHD was screened. There is no question I had the classic “boy” symptoms when I was six years old. I adapted, I survived, and I lived my life thanks to a high IQ and determination. As I approached age 60 and very much when I hit 60 I had symptoms that eventually led to a diagnosis and treatment because the symptoms were unbearable. There was no help connecting my symptoms with ADHD and proper medication until I read an article by a doctor on this site. I wish I could remember his name to give him credit. I believed I had anxiety so bad I couldn’t sleep. Sounds like a woman problem doesn’t it. Well this doctor asked the question “what are you afraid of?” He said if you are not afraid of anything it is not anxiety, it doesn’t fit the definition. It was hyperactivity seeming to be anxiety. Within a couple days of taking a very small dose 10mg of adderall my sleep problems disappeared. After a dosage increase to 20 mg and good counseling my life started coming together including quitting a life long gambling problem. After a year the medication was slightly less effective and sleep problems returned. Standard advice is to make sure you have no meds late in the day because it keeps you up. Again on this site I read an oddball account of people taking amphetamines before bedtime to improve sleep. With my doctors permission I tried taking my late dose really late and it worked like a charm. Trust me none of the doctors wanted to believe me and I know in some small part what it feels like to be treated like a woman. I hope the doctors can make some sense of this and I hope women and girls start getting the help they need. It is getting brutal to try to get the prescription for the amphetamines that actually work 88% of the time.
Well Nik79, what really do you expect? For all their lives and up until not that long ago, ‘experts’ believed that only men were ADHD. And when a women finally got the courage up to talk to a practitioner, they were dismissed as being ‘overly sensitive’, ‘depressed’ or ‘anxious’ and presented with antidepressants, Valium, told to ‘take some time for themselves and relax’ or dismissed altogether. The ‘suffering in silence’ is what women have been doing since their childhood. In fact, women have NOT been given the “softly softly”; in fact, they’ve were given NO help for a LOT of years. Women have had to ‘deal with it’ all along without anyone believing their symptoms or struggles.
@ ceebee Sensitivity is a common symptom of ADHD. Is your anxiety based on real fear of something or would you consider it unexplained. If unexplained it may be hyperactivity. For me hyperactivity was everything I thought anxiety was. I worried or thought so much I couldn’t sleep. Once you can’t sleep everything goes to hell. Hang in there.
Women with ADHD have been ignored for a long time even though it was and has been there.Because of how it affects general behavior females are not seen or even thought of as “being a priority to use caution” type of individual.
Ignored? Yeah. Does the medication change adhd/add appearance or cause adults non add/adhd’s to hear voices often enough give people a right to never give a person rest? Gawd darn they treat m e like a criminal when I take meds.