I always knew I had depression and anxiety. So when the medical field got heat for overdiagnosing them, I insulated myself from any skepticism that my mental illness was just a cool way for big pharma and doctors to make money. I knew I wasn't a part of that trend.
More than a decade since those diagnoses, I found myself going through the same process all over again as a woman diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. It's as real to me as my depression and anxiety, but I again faced skepticism. Or at the very least, the implication that I’m just a cog in the screwed up system that is mental health treatment.
A professor recently wrote in the Huffington Post:
“Bottom line: Most of what looks like adult ADHD is not adult ADHD. Distractibility is ubiquitous. Most is normal; some is due to another psychiatric or medical problem. If you weren’t diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, you almost surely don’t have it now.”
Except if you are a woman, there's a good chance you weren't diagnosed as a kid. Comments like these are dangerous because they completely leave out an entire population of women who have become marginalized because of their struggle with ADHD.
A 2015 study by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that diagnoses in girls with ADHD increased by 55% from 2002 to 2011, compared to only 40% in boys. From 2008 to 2013, U.S. women ages 26-34 who use medication for ADHD rose by 85%. On one hand, it’s a relief when a woman is diagnosed for the first time because so many things start making much more sense. On the other hand, they start to wonder just how many things could have changed for them if they had just known.
While neglecting to diagnose ADHD in girls may not have been deliberate, there have been consequences. And let’s face it, it’s easier to ignore a girl who expresses her ADHD through daydreaming rather than a boy with ADHD exhibiting hyperactive symptoms. ADHD has been linked to anxiety, depression and many other mental health issues. Girls with ADHD are at a higher risk for self-injury or suicide as young women. Girls with ADHD may also suffer self-esteem issues and be more susceptible to peer pressure as they enter adolescence and young adulthood. These are all things that hold them back from becoming successful, well-adjusted adults. And if we’re going to worry about girls in STEM these days, let’s also make sure we’re catching any learning disorders they may have while we’re at it.
Bottom line: Yes, big pharma and doctors overdiagnose ADHD. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and overlook the ones who have it. Girls and women living with undiagnosed ADHD aren’t just held back from thriving, they are at a heightened risk of harm to their mental health and general well-being.
This post was originally published on May 4, 2016
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