Though the words "attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder" often summon up mental images of young boys who struggle to pay attention to a school lecture and can't stop fidgeting in a classroom, a new study in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has challenged the long-standing idea of ADHD as a "boy's disease": the study reports that from 2003 and 2011, cases of diagnosed ADHD in girls increased by 55 percent, compared to 40 percent in boys. This jump points to more than just the fact that we might be developing better screening criteria for female ADHD sufferers (who often don't manifest the classic ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity, and instead appear absent-minded or distracted). It is also a reminder than many female ADHD sufferers have slipped through the cracks, and have made it to adulthood without understanding their own illness.
Because of this diagnostic gap, it can be easy for a woman to assume she’s just scatterbrained, rather than thinking that she might have a mental health issue that can be eased with professional treatment — culturally, we often just think that women don't have ADHD, in the same way that we might think of ADHD as a childhood problem. But while the average age of ADHD diagnosis is seven, 4.4 percent of adults deal with ADHD, and according to a study from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, only 10 percent of adults who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD have ever actually been diagnosed, let alone received treatment.
Dealing with undiagnosed ADHD can often lead to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and even relationship troubles. But the good news is that, even if you went through childhood without getting diagnosed or treated, it's not too late to start getting help now.
So what do you do when you think you have ADHD? Your treatment plan should be developed under the care of a licensed mental health professional; however, the four steps below will give you some idea of what to expect.
1. Find A Doctor Who Can Diagnose You
The path to ADHD diagnosis is varied. Sometimes, you may already be in treatment for another mental health issue and your doctor has an “aha moment.” Or you may have suspected something was up for a while, then had an event occur that forces the issue and leads you to seek a medical opinion. Maybe you looked over a checklist of common ADHD symptoms among adult women and thought, "This is my life."
It doesn't matter how you get there — the important thing is that you consult with a medical professional about what you're experiencing. The most common first step to proper diagnosis and treatment is to have your primary practitioner refer you to a psychologist. From there, you can have an extensive evaluation and undergo testing to get more insight into the issue.
And be sure this trusted professional specializes in treating ADHD in adults, not just children. As Samantha Gluck explained on HealthyPlace.com, the two aren’t the same:
"For example, while hyperactive children cannot sit still and show overt impulsiveness, adult hyperactivity may appear as restlessness, chronic boredom, and a constant need for stimulation. Because of this and other differences, it is important that the doctor treating adult ADHD has specific experience treating adults with the condition."
Once you find a specialist, don’t feel like you are bound to them for life. You have a right as a patient to the best care you can locate. If something feels off or you feel like you may be able to find better care elsewhere, you owe it to yourself to get a second opinion and consider changing doctors permanently. How do you know you have a good one? Ensure your doctor is an ADHD expert that has established a connection with you, advises Dr. Edward Hallowell in ADDitude Magazine. Hallowell’s red flags that your doctor might not be the right one for you include brushing off your concerns regarding the side effects of medication, not providing adequate information on side effects, not offering alternative treatment options, and reprimanding you for asking too many questions.
2. Consider Your Treatment Options
Those diagnosed with ADHD are most frequently prescribed stimulants. While this is an effective course of treatment, it’s important to remember it’s not a cure, but rather a tool that should be considered along with other strategies.
Stimulant medications are typically available in short- and long-acting forms, ranging from four to 12 hours of effectiveness. By some estimates, 70 to 80 percent of ADHD patients benefit from stimulant medications. You and your doctor may experiment with different dosages and varieties until the right medicine and strength is determined. There are also non-stimulant medications for those who either find no success with stimulants or experience side effects that prevent them from taking stimulants.
Resist the temptation to view ADHD medicine as a one-size-fits all category. Just because a particular medicine or dosage worked for somebody you know, for example, doesn’t mean that it will work for you. When it comes to treatment, ADHD solutions are as varied as the patients.
In addition to seeing a psychiatrist for ADHD diagnosis and medication, you may consider seeing a psychologist as well. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help you develop real-world strategies for some of your most challenging day-to-day problems.
3. Utilize New Habits For Day-To-Day Life
When it comes to behavioral modifications, there’s no shortage of advice out there. Not every strategy is going to move mountains for you, but after trying a few, you may find yourself adopting some life-changing habits you can’t live without. For example, when it comes to appointments, alarms and reminders, your smartphone may become your greatest ally. You also may find yourself purchasing a shower clock, color coding tasks at work, or relying on any number of ADHD behavioral strategies.
While navigating these tools, learn how to scale down on your day-to-day task load, weighing the pros and cons of what you’re trying to accomplish versus what you actually need to accomplish. For example, coupon cutting may seem like a very necessary task so that you can be a savvier spender. However, if you’re constantly being worn down by a bunch of paper you never find yourself leafing through, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Another big change for many is getting comfortable with saying no; learn what your limits are and get in the habit of respecting them. Finally, it’s important to remember that change doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it will be the result of lots of practice, patience and time.
4. Practice Self Care
This one might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to overlook this category. Proper nutrition, sleep and exercise are key to getting a handle on your ADHD. Not only can it help you manage common symptoms such as anxiety and depression, it can help you see the forest from the trees. By making sure you are running on all cylinders, not only are you giving yourself a fighting chance at tackling your symptoms, you’re just going to have a better understanding on what’s going on with yourself.
On the flip side, having ADHD may actually be contributing to your inability to practice self care. If this is the case, this is an opportunity to start putting behavioral strategies to work such as setting and following routines. If, for example, you tend to forget to eat, make it a habit to carry around snacks. When it comes to treating ADHD, practicing self care is right up there with how much of a stimulant you’re taking or whether you’re going to invest in a white noise machine at work. There's no magic, one-size-fits-all solution; however, learning to live — and thrive — with ADHD is a lot less difficult than you may have thought.
Images: Tachina Lee/ Unsplash; Giphy