Ellie Round, 24, didn’t think grown women experienced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), believing it to be an issue only prevalent in young boys.
So it was a surprise when she was diagnosed with the neurodivergency in August this year.
“My personal life has always been a little difficult, but I could never put my finger on it – I was always putting it down to my anxiety,” Ellie told news.com.au.
“My self-esteem has always been terrible and my impulsive and erratic behaviours have been apparent since my teen years.
“Before my diagnosis, I would describe myself as lazy because I couldn’t bring myself to clean my room or do the dishes. The idea of doing a boring task was mentally and physically draining.”
Ellie said her teacher conferences at school were always the same – she was bright but didn’t apply herself, which always confused her as she felt she had to work 10 times harder than her peers just to scrape by.
“While I knew something was brewing in the background to explain these behaviours, I didn’t even consider ADHD because I thought it was just for young boys with behavioural problems, and for the most part I’ve always been a pretty good kid (or so I’ve been told),” she said.
“After being on social media for more than enough time during the pandemic, I saw a lot of posts on ADHD. While I found them funny at first, they became suspiciously relatable. Funny haha turned into funny weird.”
Ellie said her time online, and a presentation by a colleague on this exact topic, caused her to seek help from a psychologist she was seeing for her anxiety.
The conversation led her on a path to get a diagnosis, something she is eternally grateful for.
Since the pandemic, there has been an idea that social media is responsible for a negative rise in diagnoses of mental health issues, neurodivergencies and other health matters.
There is a belief that these social media platforms are causing people to mimic these things for attention and self diagnosis, but Ellie said that social media helped her gather information on something that has impacted her for her entire life so she can seek medical advice.
“If it led me to a diagnosis, then I’m guessing there are plenty more like me out there with similar stories,” she said.
“Social media gave me access to information on ADHD that I would never have seen elsewhere. There was no chance I was going to learn this in a book. The fact that I could learn this information in a format that’s suited for my brain was perfect.”
Dr Michael Kohn is the Area Director for Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine for Western Sydney, and Head of Department for AYA Medicine at Westmead Hospital.
Dr Kohn said there is no research showing a higher diagnosis rate in women, but there is certainly an understanding of how ADHD impacts women and more women are reaching out for help.
“Social media has enabled people to better understand ADHD and the symptoms that can be associated with it. It has also led to a greater sense of community and understanding as those who may have felt neurologically different can better understand themselves and feel less alone,” he said.
“But, a diagnosis like ADHD can only come through the medical profession and we can’t stress enough that anyone self-diagnosing themselves really needs to seek out proper medical advice.”
He added more high profile women coming forward and sharing their story – such as the Verbose The Label founder Abbie – has also led to an increased awareness, helping others understand themselves and seek help.
Dr Kohn said women are likely to present in less externalised way than men, often leading to them get diagnoses later in life, but ADHD is something that can impact anyone of all IQ, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
“Females with ADHD tend to present later in life with a larger degree of difficulties in mood whereas males present earlier in life with more externalising behaviour and difficulties in emotional regulation,” he said.
“Because of this, males have historically come to the attention of healthcare professionals earlier, while females are more likely to reach adulthood without getting the same attention.
“Another common perception is that all people with ADHD will be hyperactive and out of control. This is not the case as many people with ADHD have what we call inattentive ADHD, which essentially means that they have difficulty staying focused and don’t externalise their ADHD the same way as people diagnosed with hyperactive ADHD.”
Bianca McIntyre, an online therapist and viral TikToker based in Brisbane, had a similar experience to Ellie.
The 33-year-old was diagnosed last year, and said ADHD impacts every part of her life both negatively and positively.
“The biggest hurdle with my specific ADHD is what’s referred to as executive dysfunction and problems with working memory,” Bianca said.
“This causes me to have periods of time where I simply can’t do the thing I want to do. Often this is the trait that gets people with ADHD the ‘lazy’ label as it seems like we don’t want to do tasks, when the truth is, we WANT to do tasks, we just can’t force ourselves to do it.”
She said her diagnosis was a bittersweet moment, bringing relief knowing any “lazy” or “weird” traits were connected to the ADHD, but there was also a sadness that help could have made life easier and it “didn’t have to be an uphill battle”.
Ellie had similar to say, revealing her ADHD leaves her unable to clean her home and concentrating completely drains her.
“Having ADHD and going through life essentially with one hand tied behind my back gave me the feeling that I wasn’t living up to my potential. I now know that it was the source of my anxiety and why I had problems with self-esteem,” she said.
But there have been some positives as well from her situation.
“On the flip side, I have a pretty good sense of humour and can easily make friends. Some even say I’m quite fun on a night out. I feel like it makes me who I am.” Ellie said.
“I also get hyper-fixated on tasks or random hobbies, which has come in handy financially. For example, I got super obsessed with makeup and for a few years there I was quite good. I started a side hustle and was able to make quite a bit of cash.”
Getting diagnosed isn’t always easy, with people needing to seek out a psychiatry appointment after a referral from their GP.
Waitlists are long and Dr Kohn urges anyone seeking a diagnosis to keep a diary armed with family history, their own traits and why they think they have ADHD.
“I would say that unfortunately you need to expect to be disappointed for a while,” Bianca said.
“Mental health understanding in Australia has a long way to go, even myself as a mental health worker with an ADHD diagnosis was made to feel like a drug seeker very recently by a psychiatry practice. It was not a great experience, I can tell you that.
“But I can also urge people to keep advocating for themselves. Be a voice for yourself even when you might get setbacks. I can say that you know yourself better than any mental health professional, so if you believe that a diagnosis can improve your life then continue fighting till you are able to get a good outcome.
“Until then, I do believe that social media has its benefits, as I learned many of my coping mechanisms through Tiktok and Instagram communities.”
For more information on ADHD, visit ADHD Australia.