To outside observers, ADHD looks different in adult women versus men due to the effects of female hormones, comorbid conditions, gender bias, and other cultural and biological factors. As a result, women with ADHD are more likely to be misdiagnosed—or fly under the radar entirely.
Women with ADHD who don’t get help often experience troubling outcomes, including self-esteem problems, substance use disorders, and suicidality.[i] Recent research even suggests that women with ADHD have significantly shorter lifespans than women without ADHD.[ii]
ADHD is much more manageable for women with strong support systems in place. If you have ADHD, you can get help from a variety of sources, including:
ADHD support groups
Many women have had their ADHD-related difficulties dismissed by ignorant people so many times that they stop trusting themselves. As a woman with ADHD, you can normalize and validate your struggles and experiences by connecting with other women with this condition.
There are many online groups available, including an ADDitude forum for women and girls. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) offers a variety of virtual programs for adults, including an ADHD group for women 50 and over. The organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) has online communities for parents with ADHD, and you can use their affiliate locator to connect with local ADHD support groups. The Kaleidoscope Society, founded by ADHD-er Margaux Joffe, also provides group-based support.
You can also join adult ADHD support groups on social media websites. Check out this Facebook group for Moms with ADHD. Focused Femmes, which serves both diagnosed and undiagnosed women with ADHD, is also on Facebook. On Reddit, there is a forum dedicated to women with ADHD, and on Meetup.com, there are virtual ADHD meet-ups for women in the San Francisco area.
Groups like these can be wonderfully validating. They provide the opportunity to vent your frustrations and brainstorm solutions with women who understand what you’re going through. As you access these online groups, just keep in mind that only some of them are moderated by licensed mental health professionals. We recommend discussing the treatment ideas you find there with a licensed ADHD therapist before trying them out yourself.
Trusted loved ones
When you go through difficult times, who do you rely on? Who has your best interests at heart? It might be a romantic partner, family member, or close friend. Whoever it is, they can be a valuable source of support if you share information about your condition.
Most people who don’t have ADHD don’t understand it very well. So, it’s likely you’ll have to educate your loved ones about this condition and the unique ways it impacts women. For example, you could let your partner know that your ADHD struggles may worsen during the second half of your menstrual cycle. When they can connect your mood and behaviors with your ADHD, they’ll be more understanding. Telling loved ones about your ADHD traits can also help them figure out the best ways to support you.
ADHD therapists, counselors, and coaches
Adult ADHD specialists offer better support for women than clinicians who work primarily with children. They can teach you about the importance of self-advocacy, direct communication, and boundaries in the context of adult relationships and responsibilities. An adult ADHD specialist can also help you create ADHD-friendly organizational systems and routines for more effective household management.
ADHD therapists who have experience with women can help you understand why your traits may look a bit different than you’d expect based on some clinical descriptions of ADHD. They can help you navigate the societal expectations and gender roles that make ADHD particularly difficult for women. Therapists experienced with women’s issues can also help you recognize ways you may be internalizing and/or masking your struggles.
You may need to speak to several therapists before you find one who is right for you. Most therapy clinics—including ours—offer a free consultation, giving you the opportunity to ask about their clinicians’ experience, education, and approach. We recommend you look for someone who listens well, demonstrates an active interest in your struggles, validates your concerns, and uses a neurodiversity-affirming perspective.
Therapists and counselors can brainstorm with you about which medications may work best, but they cannot legally prescribe. According to California state law, board-certified psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals permitted to prescribe psychiatric medication.
Some women who are evaluated during the second half of their menstrual cycle are ultimately prescribed anxiety or depression drugs, such as SSRIs. These medications can have the unintended side effect of disinhibiting them, which exacerbates their ADHD symptoms. If you’re interested in medication, we recommend partnering with a psychiatrist who has experience with ADHD and understands both the pros and cons of prescribing mood-altering medications for women.
If your psychiatrist is not mindful of the effects of your hormones on your mental health, they will be more likely to misdiagnose you, leaving your ADHD untreated.
Primary care providers (PCP) and gynecologists
Most gynecologists and general practitioners aren’t aware of the interplay between female hormones and ADHD. Try to find one who is. At the very least, look for a healthcare professional who is interested in this topic and willing to learn more.
It is often possible to educate open-minded clinicians. Provide your PCP or gynecologist with research studies or articles written by mental health professionals specializing in ADHD in women. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals still believe that ADHD is a male-only condition, so you may encounter some skepticism. If your clinician is unwilling to acknowledge your ADHD or at least refer you to a specialist for evaluation, you may want to find a new clinician.
It may be an uphill battle to find the right physician, but it will be worth the effort. If you can find a healthcare provider willing to coordinate with the rest of your support team, they can work together to create a customized, holistic ADHD treatment plan.
Consider adding an endocrinologist to your support team if you suspect you may have metabolism/thyroid problems. While research is still lacking in this area, some studies have identified links between thyroid conditions and ADHD in women.
If you do have metabolic issues, they may impact the absorption of your ADHD medication. By adding an endocrinologist to your team and having your thyroid hormones checked, you can ensure any medications you are taking work in harmony and are prescribed at the correct dose.
Neurodiversity-Affirmative ADHD Support
If you’ve found that your current ADHD supports are not helping, you may want to consider trying a neurodiversity-affirmative adult ADHD specialist. As adult ADHD specialists who work with college students, parents, and professionals, we can provide you relevant and effective anti-ableist support. Send us a message to see how we can help or book a free 20 minute consultation call with Dr. Abbene, Dr. Barajas, or Dr. Goldman.