Why Women and Girls with ADHD are Often Undiagnosed.

A study, reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, suggested the major symptoms of ADHD appear similar in both genders, but girls with the disorder are less likely to have accompanying disruptive behaviors. That may be one reason for their lower rate of diagnosis

It’s a common myth that ADHD is mainly a condition that occurs in boys and men. Not true. It’s often more noticed in males because they are more likely to have the hyperactive impulsive version of ADD that’s more easily noticed than the inattentive version of ADD that women usually (though not always) have.

“There are three to five boys picked up with ADHD for every girl,” said Robert Resnick. He is professor of psychology at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and former president of the American Psychological Association.

“Girls present differently,” he said. “They are less aggressive, more likely to be chatty, more depressed, more internalized than boys who are externalizing, pushing, shoving, running.”Girls with ADHD, he noted, tend to engage in early sexual behavior and face a higher than normal risk of pregnancy.

Donna Palumbo, director of the Strong Neurology ADHD Program says that

“Girls are more cognitive in symptoms. They may never be restless, hyperactive, or impulsive,” she said. “Boys tend to get more diagnosed than girls because they’re disruptive in class, their behaviors get them in trouble, while the girls are quietly zoning out (and) not bothering anyone. They are less diagnosed and at older ages than boys.”

Some studies estimate as many as half to three-fourths of all girls with the disorder go undiagnosed. Other researchers speculate that may be one reason more girls, and women, are diagnosed with depression than are men.

Girls with ADHD also had high rates of other psychiatric disorders, such as behavioral, mood and anxiety problems as well as an increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse. The rates of mood disorders were similar in both genders, but girls had less of a tendency than boys to be affected by disruptive conditions, such as oppositional defiant disorder, the authors reported.

It’s too bad, but it seems that a main determining factor of whether a person gets diagnosed with ADD or not is whether they’re causing problems for others. How much the person is suffering themselves seems secondary. I think women with ADD get shortchanged by this attitude.

I know first hand 20+ women that were treated with therapy for depression for more than 10 years and they even suggested to their therapists that they might have ADHD and those suggestions were quickly dismissed. Turns out they did have ADHD and after getting treated for ADHD, their depression went away. That being said you can have both depression and ADD together, and ADHD is not always the cause for depression.

I wonder how many women out there with depression or anxiety have untreated ADHD?

If you’re a women with ADHD, how did you first discover that you had it?

17 thoughts on “Why Women and Girls with ADHD are Often Undiagnosed.”

  1. Virginia Frances

    I actually do not KNOW whether I have Adult ADD… but just about every one of the symptoms has been present, and bothering me since childhood… with the exception of physical, disruptive behavior.. But, I was the one kid in class, that the teacher had to ask to stop answering all the questions… and I still had to sit on my hands to keep from raising my hand…..

    It occurred to me to research this because 2 of my children have ADD, and possibly the third does too…. and many of my siblings also exhibit the same behaviors.

    Interestingly enough, I have been treated for depression for the past 12 years… and I still can’t seem to organize myself to do the tasks that I want to do in my home! I’m going to pursue this with my doctor.

  2. Hi Virginia,

    ADD is the #2 genetically inherited condition after height, 80%.
    So probably a good idea to talk to you doctor about it, make sure they know enough about ADD to diagnose it.

  3. Sandy Schultz

    I have 18 years worth of periodical treatment for anxiety & depression & ptsd, starting at the age of 19. When a psychiatrist 5 years ago asked me if I had been dx’d w/ ADD, I stated that it was “a boy’s disorder”. Her suspicions were very helpful later to justify pursuing the ADD dx as it’s very expensive.

    The test came back positive for moderate ADD.

    I’m now attending the university & understanding why I didn’t succeed the first time I attended 17 years ago has been so essential for me to find forgiveness for myself & my past shortcomings.

    It’s still hard as when I worked with a prof who is my age & has accomplished many things I’ve wanted to do, like having a family & a degree.

    However, bloom where you’re planted. 🙂

    The amount of discipline it takes to succeed as a student w/ learning issues means that my extra years of emotional growth (versus doing this at 18) have proved very essential.

    Never give in to this. 🙂

  4. Marna Raysin

    Well, I haven’t been diagnosed yet, but I’m pretty sure I have ADD.
    I took one of the online tests and it came back 80% likely.
    I first discovered that I might have ADD when I received an email from my brother. It was a joke actually, called ” I have AAADD-Age Aquired ADD. When I started reading, and it was talking about starting one thing and then moving on to something else because of getting sidetracked, I thought ” that is me!!”
    And so I decided to do some more research, and found that I exibit many of the symptoms.
    I’ve also been in couples counceling with my husband for a few months, and I just had a baby. And one of our main problems we discuss in counceling is how I don’t remember conversations my husband and I have had. This of course was making me feel like there was something wrong with me. And it only made my husband angry.
    I also take Zoloft because I was getting so stressed and I was afraid that I’d end up with post partum depression. So I talked to my doctor about it.
    And now I’m going to talk to my doctor about ADD. Because I truly feel I’ve had it for a long time and now I’m 37 and I want to stop feeling like I’m losing my mind.
    I also have a three year old, who is so hyper at times, and his mouth never stops, so I’m beginning to think he may have ADHD.
    And I’m pretty sure my mom does too.
    I’m ready to take back control of my life.

  5. I am feeling amazed and hopeful, having just stumbled upon something that describes the shameful secret problem I’ve been hiding for most of my life. I’m 37 and discovered ADD last night, as I was trying to read more about anxiety. ADD is making bells go off in my head, I can hardly believe the things I’m learning, I feel like crying. I am not alone! There may be another way to approach myself, some new ideas for how to manage living like this. I’m reading a lot and thank everyone who posted for being part of this WOW experience. May we all learn to thrive and forgive ourselves. My whole life and family memories is seeming to make more sense, considered in this new frame and light. If I had health insurance, I would make an appointment with a doctor tomorrow. I hope I can find some sort of fee-free group in Oakland. My mind is blowing right now. This new information makes so much sense to me. I suddenly feel the hope that maybe I’m not just a sad, stressed, mal-adapted loser…a flicker of hope that I could feel better eventually. Wow.

  6. I just read Christy’s comment and that is how I am now feeling…HOPEFUL. I was diagnosed with ADD one week ago and I am 53 years old. Five years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression and have been treated successfully since then with anti depressants. Since beginning the anti depressants, the anxiety I had felt most of my life left me and I had not even realized it had been there till it was gone. Since it left ,my life long struggles with organization, focus and procrastination just bloomed into an over whelming mess, on my desk, in my car, in my house and even in my pants pockets. I had been using the anxiety I felt to at least get me to take care of bills etc, but when the anxiety lifted, I became personally aquainted with several bill collectors and I knew that if, when I came home and there was a red tag hanging from my front door, that some vital utility had been cut off. I was so ashamed to let eny one know about that.
    Since I work with kids with special needs, I was well aware of what ADD and ADHD look like. I just took some (lots of) introspection to figure out that I might be one of those kids. I knew I have always had compassion for the kid with the messy desk, because that was me, then and now.
    I am now taking medication and the jury is still out on how it will work for me. I can tell you that last week I sat through a meeting lasting 1 hr and 30 mins and when it was over I realized that I had heard everything that everyone had said and I did not need to shift around on my chair once, not once. There were no holes in my memory what was discussed and I did not need to poke my neighbor to ask what was just said or to make some off topic comment. When I was told “yes you have ADD and yes we can help you” it was truly one of the happiest days of my life. No more blaming myself for being stupid and incapable, perhaps no more refusing to invite people over because of the state of my house (my sister used to tease me that I would do great in a house with no horizontal surfaces), and most importantly maybe I will get over the paralysis I feel when trying to start a project and the guilt for not finishing it. I am an artist and now my talent and creativity with not be rotting in the back of the fridge like that lettuce I bought last month.
    Hey did I mention that creativity and hyperfocus can be assets that come from ADD. Were it not for the ADD I may never have know how creative I am. There are blessings in everything if you know where to look. Good luck to all of you.

  7. It’s so amazing reading all of this. It’s made me feel less alone knowing there are so many people who are suffering the same as I am. So much of this explains a lot of what’s happened in my life (I am 26). My doctor put me on Wellbutrin thinking my problems are only depression, but while I feel a little more awake, I’m still having all the same problems. Also he gave me anti-anxiety medication for the panic attacks that are happening more recently. Losing focus, zoning out in the middle of conversation, horrible procrastination, forgetting so much and suffering in my job since I start projects but have a hard time finishing them. I feel like I’m losing my mind! Once I confided to my mother about the problems I have been having she told me my father has ADHD and that I should check out that as well. Tomorrow I’ll be talking to my doctor about this and keeping my fingers crossed for a helpful and hopeful solution. Good luck to you all and you have my deepest wishes for the best.

  8. Wow! My journey is kind of interesting. My husband’s x-wife was convinced that my step-son had ADD. He didn’t quite fit the bill, and when we started to answer the questionaire, I started to think, man that sounds like my daughter. I took my daughter to get tested, and she was 98% blah Conners test, coupled with the light and sound test ADD positive. I was blown away! I started to accept that my daughter was diagnosed, and the more I did research, I found the hereditary”link”. Being a person that relies heavily on data, I started to think about my own life and interactions. Basically, it lead me to being diagnosed with it and redefining my whole life history. Here I am today telling you that honestly, even though I have worked hard to accomplish the things I have, I am happy that I have figured out the missing link. My daughter and I are on this journey together, figuring out life. Whether this is explained by a personality or a brain function or non-function is almost meaningless to me. The most important thing is that I have found people that think and feel the same way I do. Keep all these posts coming. I think we are only on the cust of uncovering this “gift”. And I truly believe that!

  9. I am 33 and was just diagnosed 3 days ago. i am the one that asked my Dr. about it because when i look back on my life all i see is a long line of unfinished projects. it was really stating to depress me. All my life i thought i was a day-dreamer and a procrastinator. I was tested for learning problems when i was 7, but i was a quiet well behaved child that never disrupted class. i guess thats why ADD was never considered. the pasted three days i have felt relief and peace. I am so glad i figured this out!

  10. Thanks for the article. My brother, sister and two sons have ADHD, but when I suggested it to my psych after my sons were diagnosed I was made to feel like an idiot. My new psych actually mentioned it last week and although we didn’t have time to go into it, it got me thinking again. I’m drawing up a list of symptoms like I did for my sons, and it’s suddenly so glaringly obvious. All this time I hated myself and felt less than human for not being able to do all the things everyone else manages to do (housework, cooking, shopping, planning, routine, finishing anything) and after a lifetime of underachieving, it looks like it wasn’t just that I’m hopeless. I’ve been treated for major (and treatment-resistant) depression for 25 years, even undergoing unsuccessful ECT. I’m now 45 and hope that if I can get this diagnosis I may not have to waste another 25 years of my life.

  11. I’m 99.9% sure I’ve had ADD my whole life, but I’ve never officially been diagnosed. I don’t see the need, when I’ve learned positive coping skills in dealing with it. I first really believing that I had it when a friend suggested to me last year that he thought I had it, and after a lot of research and online tests, I really believe that it is true. Funniest part about it all was that my brother was actually diagnosed with it in High School, and when my parents came back with him from the doctor my mom told me she was surprised that I did have it because I fit more of the symptoms than he did. It has helped with anxiety and depression in believing that I have ADD, processing through thoughts and actions are very different and not as negative as it used to be.

  12. I too have been treated for drug therepy resistant depression for 13 years and I am beginning to think ADD might be the missing link I need to finally get my life under control. I do have a question however. What are the common treatment methods for adult women with this? Is it the same drug therepy they give to kids? I appreciate any answers anybody can give.

  13. I spent 20 years being told by at least 6 different therapists and psychiatrists that my symptoms were due to depression. I repeatedly said my concern was not my mood but my inability to get things done. If I could get things done, my life could get better and my mood would improve.

    I finally pushed for an ADHD assessment last month and was diagnosed at age 48. After having ruined my life with 20+ years of untreated ADHD.

    It’s good to finally know what’s actually wrong with me, but the damage has already been done – over and over again.

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