Do Women with ADHD Differ from Men?
While women with ADHD face many of the same struggles as men, they also face issues related to gender roles, hormones that shift, and a greater chance of self-harm and self-doubt. Just as important, long-term outcomes may be different for women and men as well, so writes Ellen Littman, Ph.D. in the magazine Attitude (https://www.additudemag.com/gender-differences-in-adhd-women-vs-men/ ).
Unlike boys and men who tend towards impulsive and hyperactive behavior in addition to being distractible, girls and women tend more towards inattentive behavior. In our culture, women are socialized more towards internalizing their difficulties, often in the form of anxiety and/or depression, whereas men are socialized more towards externalizing, often in the form of aggressive behavior directed outward. When women may despair about their ADHD struggles with organization, timeliness, and attention, they may be mis-diagnosed as anxious or depressed, with ADHD not even considered by some health care professionals.
Women may tend to blame themselves for their daily struggles, and feel embarrassed about their emotions, so that they censor themselves with others. In their own families and intimate relationships however, their frustrations may accumulate into emotional outbursts, which may then cause guilt, regrets, and demoralization. A woman’s menstrual cycle includes periods of lower estrogen levels, which will likely intensify her struggles with emotional reactivity, mood, sleep, and concentration difficulties.
For many successful women, early academic success was a pathway to self-esteem. As attention difficulties develop, exacerbated perhaps by ADHD and menstrual fluctuations, they may struggle with what have been successes in the past. They may then question their own abilities, monitor themselves more energetically, and feel discouraged by it all, to the point of depressive moods. Many women are distracted from caring for themselves, and struggle daily with sleep deficits, eating habits that are not healthy, dependence on prescription medications to manage their most obvious symptoms, and self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, food, or other addictive behaviors.
The next blog will more specifically identify diagnostic questions to ask, so that women (and girls) with possible ADHD will not be overlooked.
Dr. Alan M. Solomon is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310 539-2772 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2018 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.