The Mighty Logo

How I've Struggled to Get ADHD Treatment as a Woman

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

My entire life, I have struggled with sensory processing issues, executive dysfunction, and hyperfocus. I didn’t realize I had ADHD until the pandemic. With lockdown going strong, I found it extremely difficult to function. Lockdown was the first time I had ever been responsible for meeting all of my needs for months at a time. My mood fluctuated, I couldn’t regulate my emotions, and I couldn’t complete basic tasks, no matter how hard I tried.

Many others have similar stories to mine. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was going to be to get mental health care as a woman with ADHD. Here are five obstacles I faced while trying to get the care I needed.

Other relevant stories:
Can a Therapist Diagnose ADHD?
ADHD Difficulty Waking Up in the Morning
Can You Have OCD and ADHD?
What is ADHD?

1. I was gaslit by professionals.

I brought my newfound revelation to my psychiatrist. He urged that it was solely anxiety and stated, “Anxiety is severely underdiagnosed and ADHD is overdiagnosed.” I had an anxiety diagnosis for almost seven years by this point. My ADHD symptoms actually got worse once I managed to control my anxiety triggers. I calmly advocated for myself and explained that women are frequently underdiagnosed for ADHD due to a difference in the presentation of symptoms.

According to CHADD, women tend to have more depressive and anxious symptoms associated with ADHD than men do. Most clinicians think of the cisgender/white/young boy who can’t stay in his seat during class. Mine presents as the inattentive type. I would sit at my desk and daydream. I hardly paid attention in class.

It makes me wonder if there is also a social construct at play here. Women are commonly taught from a young age to conform to our surroundings. Often times we are taught not to speak and to “mask” in public. Many of my other women friends with ADHD believe this is the case. I didn’t know I was masking until the concept was explained to me. Turns out I had been partaking in masking from the time I was a child.

My psychiatrist responded to my argument by saying, and I quote, “I just don’t know if ADHD is a real diagnosis. And even if it was, you wouldn’t have done as well as you have in life if you had it.” I was appalled. He explained his stance by stating he didn’t think I could make it through graduate school with undiagnosed ADHD.

I know many individuals with ADHD who thrived in an educational environment. I often would procrastinate until the last possible second and then complete the task at hand. When my efforts paid off with a good grade, I was pleased. It continued to provide a dopamine release for me. It’s very ableist of this psychiatrist to take this stance. He’s insinuating that people with ADHD can’t succeed at the same things that neurotypicals do.

I received variations of the same argument from other professionals as well. I work in mental health and still wasn’t listened to. I can’t help but wonder who else isn’t getting the care they need and deserve due to the outdated stereotype of individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD.

I finally found a doctor to test me for ADHD and the test concluded that I did in fact have it.

2. I was met with resistance when requesting a stimulant.

I’ve always done well on prescriptions similar to a stimulant. I took Strattera and Wellbutrin, both of which target the same neurotransmitters that stimulants do. I often would have to drink caffeine with the prescriptions in order to feel even a little bit functional. I requested a stimulant in hopes that it might help.

I encountered many clinicians who felt like prescribing a stimulant was a last resort option. The fear of medication dependency fueled by the opioid epidemic was the main concern. I understand that clinicians don’t want to prescribe controlled substances unless they absolutely have to, but my test stated I did have ADHD. I was still experiencing pretty severe symptoms. There was no reason for them to deprive me of adequate treatment. Many other women I’ve spoken with have had similar experiences.

I always feel like they assume I’m drug seeking when I request a stimulant. Figuring out how to word things to clinicians is imperative when pursuing medication management.

I still have not been able to get on a stimulant, but I’m not giving up quite yet.

3. I felt like I wasn’t listened to.

I would advocate for my needs and I was often met with dismissal. Many attributed my symptoms to anxiety or mood swings from hormones.

I do a lot of research on ADHD and stay up to date with any new developments. The clinicians I encountered, however, had not. The second I would use scientific studies and journals to back up my viewpoint, I was dismissed.

To conclude, being an adult woman with ADHD has been a challenge when pursuing care. As a mental health worker, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for the general public to receive care. Women, individuals of the BIPOC community, and gender non-conforming individuals are more likely to receive inadequate care for ADHD. It’s time that clinicians break the stereotype that says only white cisgender males struggle with ADHD.

Getty image by Pheelings Media.

Originally published: July 11, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home