ADHD, TikTok, & The Increase In Women Being Diagnosed In Later Life

It's not just a trend.

via Almada Studio

According to TikTok, you may have ADHD if you’re tired, daydream, forget things and are indecisive. And while these are things that the entire population experiences, there’s been a rise in women feeling seen, and researching the neurodivergent condition. Videos about the condition have taken over the social media app, with #adhd gaining over 29.7 billion views to date.

So why are so many women getting diagnosed later in life? According to Ken Kilbride CEO of ADHD Ireland, the trending topic has resulted in a rise in diagnoses in women. “The prime age for getting a diagnosis is between the ages of 8 and 12,” he explains, “But within that age range four times more boys are diagnosed than girls. So, a lot of girls are getting missed at that young age. We would generally say teenage girls who are presenting with anxiety and depression, to check for ADHD.”

TikTok’s rise in popularity during the pandemic gave people time to scroll, time to find relatable videos about their ‘flaws’ and most significantly, time to look inward and assess themselves. And while TikTok was often offering up very vague traits and labelling them as ADHD, it gave people a different perspective on the condition.

“The general perception of ADHD is that stereotype of a 10-year-old boy bouncing off the wall,” says Ken. “What you find with girls in a classroom is it sides more with attention deficit, so the inability to focus. As girls enter puberty they tend to mask any and all symptoms because they’re much better at social camouflaging than boys, so they can continue on like nothing is wrong when they’re actually drowning in inner turmoil.”

Many women have been masking their symptoms without even realising, until they see something that makes it click. While TikTok has been useful for many people, it’s not enough on its own. You may have had a closed fist at the end of a ‘put-a-finger-down’ challenge, but many videos on TikTok have been debunked and proven inaccurate.

In fact, one study conducted in Canada by Anthony Yeung MD, suggested that more than half of the ADHD videos found on TikTok were misleading. Ken adds: “There’s certainly been a rise in interest. It is said that 5% of children and 3% of adults will continue to meet the clinical criteria but ADHD has always been around and has stayed at that figure. Our services have actually doubled in the last 2-3 years since covid. So, social media in this circumstance can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you use it.”

However, if you feel you relate a little too much to the #adhd online, and want to seek support here in Ireland, for many, it’s an expensive process. Shauna*, 30, decided to seek an inattentive ADHD diagnosis after her boss was dissatisfied with her work performance.

She was constantly late to work and missing deadlines” “I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew I was trying my absolute hardest, but it just wasn’t coming across in my work and trying to convince someone who wasn’t seeing my handwork was the saddest part of it all. I felt like I was lying and making up excuses when I wasn’t. I just couldn’t focus throughout the day long enough to get my work done unless I was in a state of hyper-focus when I would have an entire days’ worth of work done in a morning, there was absolutely no in-between.” 

She contacted her GP who told her there was a seven-year wait to be assessed with the HSE. Her only other option was to go private. “I work in a primary school and while my salary is decent, I don’t make enough to be able to fork out over €1,000 for a diagnosis. But my symptoms were bad enough, I couldn’t wait that long.”

Shauna was diagnosed with ADHD, and says that since, her life has been made easier. “My symptoms have improved immensely thanks to a mixture of medication and therapy. I now feel like I can get through my day and come out the other end feeling good about myself, a feat I never thought possible.”

Marie, 54, was diagnosed this year, after struggling since childhood with school, hyperactivity, and trouble focusing. “Even as an adult, I always had lots of energy and couldn’t sit still but I really struggled with things like paperwork and paying bills, I’d leave it to the last minute,” she explains. She adds that she never realised there was an issue until she went back to college during the pandemic as a mature student.

“I really struggled with the technical side of things and I didn’t feel like anyone understood just how hard I was finding it. I got support in college from a remedial worker who suggested I might get tested for ADHD, so I decided to look into it.”  The process of getting diagnosed was complicated and expensive, she says. “Getting tested was trickier than I thought, there’s a long waiting list in this country. I went private because I felt like it was something I had to do. But it did cost me €1,000.” When she was diagnosed, she explains that it was an emotional, but validating time. 

“I felt relief. I felt like a lot of the things I struggled with from focus to my high energy were actually out of my control. It made a lot of sense to me. It’s a bit emotional actually, I think I’m still processing it. I look forward to seeing what’s open to me, fixing those things and how it will change my life. Being in my 50s I feel like I did miss out, I wish I could turn back the clock and start my degree all over again. If I had known when I was a teenager, maybe life would have been a little bit easier. I have yet to plan my treatment, so I need to figure out what works for me down the line.”

Sharing her advice, Marie says: “I would urge anyone who has a child, or thinks they might have it themselves, to just go for it, it will have an impact on how you lead your life.” The waiting lists, cost and time are all barriers, Ken says: “Getting a diagnosis in Ireland requires sustained mental effort over a long period of time. The HSE, while they have improved its services, but there is still a severe lack of services available for those with ADHD.

“If you can get in, the service is great, but it can take a long time. At the moment treatments for ADHD can be a mixture of medication and/or other treatments like behavioural management or speech and language therapy. At the moment though we only have about two private clinicians in Ireland who are able to provide medication. So in reality they’re overwhelmed as well.”

As Marie and Shauna explained, it’s not an easy process, but it is worth it. This is why I’m in the process of getting my own assessment. I always knew there was something wrong but never quite understood what. I was constantly called lazy or told I could work harder or wasn’t doing my best or the worst one: ‘She has so much potential if she’d just apply herself’.

Because I didn’t show signs of hyperactivity I was never tested for ADHD. It was a constant torturous hamster wheel of me trying and failing and being told I wasn’t good enough as a result of those failures. That’s why videos online felt like a safe space, and I felt understood.

While I’m still in the process of getting results, knowing that everything I’ve been feeling since I was a child is actually real with a possible medical diagnosis has been seriously validating and overwhelmingly relieving. So while ADHD isn’t a trend, and not everything online is true, TikTok gave me the push I needed to finally seek answers.