The impact of ADHD on women and non-binary people – 75% may be living undiagnosed

A new campaign initiated and funded by Takeda UK is asking 11 inspiring people who were all diagnosed with ADHD later in life to share their stories in an attempt to raise awareness of ADHD symptoms and how individuals can get a much needed diagnosis, even if this is in later life. Sharing their story with, Tshelane said that until they were diagnosed with ADHD they didn’t know what it was. Tshelane is a 26-year-old non-binary person from East London. After studying fashion at university, they spent four years in the media and communications industry and are now pursuing a career in filmmaking, with a short film on the horizon. Only ever being exposed to “stereotypes” such as being boisterous or hyperactive, it meant that Tshelane, like many others, missed their own symptoms.

ADHD is underdiagnosed in women because they often don’t meet the boisterous, hyperactive stereotype of ADHD behaviour – their symptoms can be more subtle and internalised, such as daydreaming or finding it difficult to concentrate.

Research suggests that women and girls are also more likely to cover up their symptoms and hide how much they are struggling, but it may become more difficult to hold everything together later in life.

In addition, women are also frequently diagnosed with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression whilst coexisting with ADHD may be overlooked.

“I’ve felt different my whole life and I didn’t understand why, especially at school,” East Londoner Tshelane shared.

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“I wasn’t the most academic person, but it was around crunch times like my GCSEs or my A-Levels that when I put my mind to it, I would get good grades. I would shut myself away from the whole world and throw myself into studying – something I now know to be hyper focusing.

“Looking back, I struggled with social situations and didn’t always understand people or certain social situations.

“Throughout my teens, I tended to be quiet and now I have my diagnosis I recognise my silence was to mask my ADHD symptoms.”

The fashion graduate went on to explain that they thought their symptoms were initially down to anxiety and depression, with others constantly making excuses for certain characteristics they showed.


They added: “I would miss deadlines and was always late to everything. As I was growing up people would say, “oh just wake up earlier” but it didn’t feel as easy as that – it was how my brain was wired.

“I was constantly battling with being called “lazy” or not trying hard enough, which at the time I thought was due to my depression and anxiety but now I know ADHD was impacting me too.”

With little knowledge of ADHD and never thinking that it could be affecting them, Tshelane went on to explain the turning-point in which they suspected they had ADHD and the role social media played during this time. They said: “My eye-opening moment was when I saw a cartoon that described ADHD. As I was reading it, I thought, ‘oh wow, that is me!’

“I spent the best part of a year researching and looking for a way to push for a diagnosis. At the same time, I started to see people opening up about their ADHD on social media and there was a thread on Twitter where lots of people were talking about how they got a diagnosis.

“I started speaking to other people on social media and finding out about other people’s journeys with ADHD from all over the world. I stumbled on the Right To Choose Scheme via a private provider of ADHD services and immediately signed up. I took this to my GP and advocated for a referral to a specialist through the scheme.

“I wanted to get a diagnosis for myself because it is helpful for me to have the words to describe what I’m going through.

“Ultimately, knowledge is power, and I found researching, understanding, and diving into ADHD before I was diagnosed helped me on my journey. While a diagnosis is scary, it was one of the best things I could’ve done for me and my ADHD.”

Others similar to Tshelane share the same mindset that their ADHD diagnosis was one of the best things to have happened to them. Getting a diagnosis helps to explain who they are and gives a reason for some of the difficulties they may have faced throughout their lives.

Trying to give reason as to why symptoms of ADHD differ for individuals, Patricia Quinn, M.D., director of the National Centre for Gender Issues and ADHD explained the following: “In a classroom setting, a boy might continually blurt out answers or repeatedly tap his foot, whereas a girl might demonstrate hyperactivity by talking incessantly.

“A girl who talks all the time is often viewed by the teacher as chatty, not hyper or problematic – and thus is less likely to be recommended for an evaluation.”

The campaign explains that the key symptoms of ADHD fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. However, other ADHD symptoms to spot may include:

  • Exhibiting silliness or apparent ditziness
  • Acting shy or inattentive
  • Trouble maintaining friendships
  • Picking at cuticles or skin
  • Being a perfectionist.

The NHS advises that if you suspect you or someone you know has ADHD to go and speak to your GP. It is important to note that a diagnosis of ADHD can only be made if symptoms began before the age of 12 and have persisted into adulthood, symptoms are not better explained by another condition and symptoms are interfering with or reducing quality of life.

The results of studies referenced in the campaign were provided for women. Takeda UK understand the need to extend raising awareness of ADHD to those who identify as non-binary as well as those who identify as women.