Recent Canadian studies, led by, Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson PhD, director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto, report that one in four women with ADHD have attempted suicide in their lifetime and are 69 per cent more likely to have has a substance abuse disorder.
According to the study, women with ADHD have triple the prevalence of insomnia, chronic pain, suicidal ideation, childhood sexual abuse and generalized anxiety disorder and double the rate of substance use, smoking, depressive disorder, severe poverty and childhood physical abuse compared to women without ADHD.
“Considering this Canadian data, it is very worrisome that more attention is not being paid to the impact of ADHD on suicidality, addiction, mental and physical health in general and specifically in women,” states Heidi Bernhardt the director of Education and Advocacy for the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, a national charity supporting those affected by ADHD.
Girls and women with ADHD remain undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or diagnosed much later in life, causing many to remain untreated for decades with devastating consequences. A recent CADDAC survey of Canadian women with ADHD found that 46 per cent were misdiagnosed with another disorder prior to being diagnosed with ADHD, with 60 per cent stating that their treatment had been delayed by two or more decades due to this misdiagnosis.
Rachelle Bien-Barnard, one of a group of women from across Canada who have stepped forward to speak out about their ADHD during this year’s October ADHD Awareness Month shares her story.
“I was diagnosed with ADHD at 36, but it took until I was 45 to truly understand my ADHD,” Bien-Barnard says.
“Up to that point, I had spent my whole life feeling like something was wrong with me, that I wasn’t good enough, that I could never be who I was expected to be ‑ a good girl, a good friend, a good wife, a good employee and on and on. I could never entirely get it together and it was exhausting.
“This would be impossible without intervention, support, education, resources, self-awareness and discipline. Now finally, at 47 years of age, I have the freedom to be who I was born to be.”
Dr. Sara Binder, a consulting psychiatrist at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and an expert in women with ADHD, says that, “while ADHD is left untreated females experience significant impairment in terms of social, emotional and cognitive functioning. It is imperative that we increase the awareness of this discrepancy in diagnosis and treatment. We must educate schoolteachers, physicians and mental health practitioners regarding the varied presentation of ADHD in girls and adolescents. Females being treated for comorbid conditions should be assessed for ADHD and appropriately managed in order to protect them from years of unnecessary suffering and functional impairment.”
CADDAC has released a paper highlighting the urgent need for Canadian medical professionals and governments to help build awareness of ADHD in girls and women, increase training on female ADHD for family and mental healthcare providers, and support research dollars into better screening and assessment tools for female ADHD.