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  • ADHD diagnosis on the rise for Aust women

    Author: AAP

Mia Freeman, Em Rusciano and Abbie Chatfield are among a growing list of high profile women revealing ADHD diagnoses.

They're but a few of the voices in the apparent increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorders among women that Australian Psychological Society president Tamara Cavenett puts down to several factors.

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"Women have historically been under-diagnosed with ADHD," she says.

"It's not really since recently that adult ADHD has been under consideration and its a collision with a few factors including COVID-19."

Ms Cavenett says the pandemic and its lockdowns, increased exposure to mental health, decreased stigma around ADHD and some doctors finally accepting adult ADHD exists all come into play.

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects about one in 20 Australians.

It's characterised by persistent patterns of inattentive, impulsive and sometimes hyperactive behaviour, and is frequently accompanied by emotional regulation challenges, according to ADHD Australia.

While ADHD is the most common disorder among boys four to 11, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says about half the number of girls the same age are diagnosed.

That's not because girls don't have ADHD, experts say, but because they usually have the inattentive type of the condition which means their symptoms can fly under the radar.

ADHD Support Australia President Vivian Dunstan was diagnosed on the heels of her 11-year-old daughter's diagnosis 25 years ago.

"A lot of women get misdiagnosed, they are told they have anxiety or depression," she says.

"That often happens because those with ADHD often have this feeling of not being good enough or feeling overwhelmed.

"But then they are filling out questionnaires for their children and they are ticking boxes that actually relate to themselves."

She says women diagnosed later in life have a combination of an "ah-ha" moment and grief over what could have been had they received earlier warning.

It was the same feeling for podcaster, singer and comedian Rusciano who spoke of her condition at the National Press Club in August.

She says Melbourne's COVID-19 lockdowns were the catalyst.

"I found the absence of my usual routine and structure led to my mental health completely unravelling," Rusciano told her audience.

She finally saw her GP who suggested she test and, at 42, was diagnosed with a combination of inattentive and hyperactive ADHD.

Freeman, creator of women's media company Mamamia, recently revealed her diagnosis on her No Filter podcast.

Behavioural quirks the then-49-year-old was aware of her whole life last year began growing into obstacles and liabilities.

"I was shopping too much, spending too much," she later wrote.

"My senses felt hungry all the time, like I couldn't see enough, hear enough, know enough.

"I desperately needed to absorb all of the information all of the time and I was exhausting everyone around me."

Radio presenter Chatfield, 27, is another high profile professional to reveal her condition, telling Mamamia about it in May.

Yet her story and those told by Rusciano and Freeman are more common than many realise.

Skincare influencer Hannah English not only shares her sunscreen reviews with 63,000 Instagram followers but also her life with ADHD.

The pharmaceutical scientist was diagnosed in mid-2019 after a friend gently suggested she might have symptoms.

"I finished university and was working in a difficult job in pharmaceutical science and there was a lot of organising and attention to detail, and I was struggling to stay on task, to stay organised and I was overwhelmed all the time," she tells AAP.

"So once this friend suggested ADHD might be the reason I felt like that, I went home and Googled it and did an online quiz and thought, 'this needs to be sorted'."

Once diagnosed, English says she felt a huge weight lift from her shoulders.

It allowed her to open the door to forgive herself for things she just thought she was bad at or were character flaws.

But she also lamented the success she could have had with an earlier diagnosis.

She's glad those with a higher profile are speaking out because it breaks the stigma.

Rikki-Lee Barly, 33, first became aware of her symptoms through TikTok. The more videos she watched, the more obvious her condition became.

The West Gippsland mum says she's always been sensitive to noises, including clocks, eating and breathing.

"A lot of my symptoms overlap with anxiety, so I still have a bit of impostor syndrome about it," she says.

"But I am relieved I now know that way that I am. I've always felt like I just don't fit in somehow and now I know why."

Melbourne mum Rachel, who did not want her surname published, was diagnosed in February.

She'd sought support for anxiety since early last year following a tough time during the pandemic.

With two young sons, both with ADHD and one with autism, balancing working and home schooling became a struggle.

Her diagnosis was a relief but not a surprise.

"I remember thinking, 'Wow! It all makes sense'," she says.

"Suddenly I felt like the things I would be hard on myself over or be embarrassed about were normal for me ... that I forget things, lose things, bump into things, hyper fixate on things and that time blindness is actually a thing."

Despite being surrounded by friends and family, Rachel hasn't shared her diagnosis at work for fear of being judged.

But workplace perceptions are also something that is changing, says ADHD Australia chair Michael Kohn.

"Historically, ADHD has been misconceived as bad behaviour or seen as something that limits what a person can and can't do," he said.

"In today's competitive talent market, the opportunity for employers that can unlock the potential of divergent thinking is vast."

Each woman AAP interviewed called for ADHD to be recognised by the NDIS so medication and expensive psychologist and psychiatrist appointments can be covered.

October is ADHD Awareness Month.

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