ADHD diagnosis in women is complicated…
It’s not uncommon for both men and women I work with to first receive their ADHD diagnosis as an adult. Sometimes they call me after a very recent diagnosis. And, as we talk about this late diagnosis, the conversation often touches on their feelings about having ADHD and finding out so late in life.
They may experience both sadness and relief when they first find out. They feel relief because they can put their past into context — they have a better understanding of their challenges. But they may also feel grief that it took so long to find out.
However, women are often more surprised at their diagnosis than men.
Which Type of ADHD Do Women Have?
Like many others, women are often more familiar with the Hyperactive-Impulsive Type ADHD, more commonly found in children and men. Those with this type of ADHD may have difficulty waiting, talk excessively, interrupt often, seem restless to others, etc. This type of ADHD is more familiar because it is easier to spot.
But, for many women, this may not resonate with their experience because they are more likely to have Inattentive Type ADHD. People with this type of ADHD are often forgetful, lose things frequently, make careless mistakes, have difficulty following instructions and sustaining attention. In addition to not having the stereotypical symptoms of ADHD, they are not as overt, right?
Of course, some women, as well as men, might have Combined Type ADHD. If you have this type of ADHD, you have symptoms of both Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD.
What About Depression, Anxiety and ADHD in Women?
That women’s ADHD symptoms are harder to spot can make it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Sure, women may tell their primary care doctor or therapist that they feel overwhelmed and disorganized. However, it may not occur to their caregiver that ADHD is a possible root cause. Instead, the initial diagnosis is more often a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
Because, while therapists obviously see a breath of mental health issues, many are not as familiar with ADHD as other mental health conditions. And they are also not trained diagnosticians. So, they may not spot ADHD as readily. In fact, a client once told me her therapist said, “You’re too successful to have ADHD.”
Of course, primary care doctors also see patients who have mental health conditions. However, they likely lack the necessary specialized and up-to-date knowledge to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. This can result in delays in receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Primary care doctors and therapist can be great resources to ask for appropriate referrals, though.
Mental Health Professionals and Diagnosing ADHD in Women
It is best, though, to consult with a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner for a diagnosis.
However, even trained mental health professionals may misdiagnose women who have primarily inattentive Type ADHD. Like other professionals, they may see the symptoms as indicative of a mood disorder.
Is important to note anxiety and/or depression may coexist with ADHD. What is problematic, though, is that they might not consider an ADHD diagnosis as a possibility. As Sari Solden, psychotherapist, author and ADHD expert, notes:
“Inattentive ADHD symptoms are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed by medical professionals who mistake them for mood disorders, anxiety, or another related condition.”
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “How do I make sure I get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment?!”
How Women Can Take Charge of Their ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment
Psychologist and ADHD expert Keith Conners suggest, “You must be a savvy consumer of your healthcare to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.” In part, this means, you will need to ask the right questions before working with a mental health professional.
Questions you may want to ask, if appropriate, are:
- How much experience do you have working with clients with ADHD?
- What is your professional/educational background in ADHD?
- What is your approach to working with clients who have ADHD?
- How do you diagnose ADHD in adults?
- What are the most effective treatments for adults with ADHD?
- Generally, what is your approach to helping clients with ADHD meet their goals?
- What is your philosophy of ADHD medication?
The bottom line is you will need to do your due diligence when seeking out help for diagnosing or treating possible ADHD. And I also know that this is not easy…
Helping Mental Health Professionals Diagnose ADHD in Women
Asking questions when interviewing professionals is a good first step.
The next step Solden suggest is to fill out the checklist below. And then share this information with whomever you choose to work with in diagnosing and treating your ADHD. But, as Solden in strongly cautions, this checklist does not take the place of a medical diagnosis from a professional.
Sari’s Checklist for Women with ADHD
Screening checklist for those women who suspect they may have Attention Deficit Disorder The following is a list of characteristics that often describe the challenges faced by women with ADD or ADHD. Everyone has these kinds of feelings at some time and to some extent. Do you have them more severely? Have they been present for most of your life? Are they giving you an overwhelming sense of difficulty in achievement, self-esteem, relationships and mood?
- Do you feel overwhelmed in stores, at the office, or at parties? Is it impossible for you to shut out sounds and distractions that don’t bother others?
- Is time, money, paper, or “stuff” dominating your life and hampering your ability to achieve your goals?
- Do you often shut down in the middle of the day, feeling assaulted? Do requests for “one more thing” put you over the top emotionally?
- Are you spending most of your time coping, looking for things, catching up, or covering up? Do you avoid people because of this?
- Have you stopped having people over to your house because you’re ashamed of the mess?
- Do you have trouble balancing your checkbook?
- Do you often feel as if life is out of control, and that it’s impossible to meet demands?
- Do you feel like you’re always at one end of a deregulated activity spectrum — either a couch potato or a tornado?
- Do you feel that you have better ideas than other people but are unable to organize them or act on them?
- Do you start each day determined to get organized, and end each day feeling defeated?
- Have you watched others of equal intelligence and education pass you by?
- Do you despair of ever fulfilling your potential and meeting your goals?
- Have you ever been thought of as selfish because you don’t write thank-you notes or send birthday cards?
- Are you clueless as to how others manage to lead consistent, regular lives?
- Are you called “a slob” or “spacey?” Are you “passing for normal?” Do you feel as if you are an impostor?
- Is all your time and energy taken up with coping, staying organized, and holding it together, with no time for fun or relaxation?
Above all, the key is to put yourself in the driver’s seat when seeking out help for any mental health condition so you can be a savvy consumer.
Are You a Woman and Suspect You Have ADHD?
Which of the above steps do you want to take?