Can ADHD cause low self-esteem in women?

Your desk’s a mess, you missed your son’s soccer match, you’ve forgotten everything on your to-do list – or you don’t have one. Being forgetful, distracted and feeling like you can’t manage all of life’s many responsibilities can knock your self-esteem – but did you ever stop to think it might be ADHD? About four million women in the world have ADHD, and some don’t even know it.

Women with untreated ADHD often find ways to hide their struggles well. But in silence, they feel ashamed and suffer from low self-esteem. They find it difficult to make lasting social connections and feel frustrated when things don’t go according to plan.

Missed diagnosis
ADHD in women is often missed and goes undiagnosed from an early age. The ratio of boys to girls diagnosed with ADHD is high – nine boys are diagnosed for every one girl. This is because ADHD presents itself differently in boys than it does in girls.

Boys with ADHD are traditionally known for hyperactivity and disruptive behaviour. These symptoms are more ‘outward’ and are noticed by parents and teachers more easily, which leads to ADHD being diagnosed and treated.

In girls, the symptoms of ADHD typically aren’t as disruptive. They’re either quiet daydreamers, who keep to themselves, which is seen as less problematic. As such, they fly under the radar at school and the ADHD is left undiagnosed and untreated. But the impact in later life is substantial – when ADHD goes untreated for years women can develop anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, along with the condition itself.

Societal pressure 
It may be societal expectations that make life with ADHD so challenging for women, which leads to feelings of inadequacy. Women are traditionally expected to be organisers, planners and multi-taskers. They’re often expected to keep track of important dates and school events and facilitate day-to-day household tasks. This can be all the more difficult for women with ADHD, who might struggle to prioritise, plan ahead and focus on one task at a time.

Their inability to achieve academically, provide support for their partner and children and maintain a healthy schedule means they constantly feel judged, disorganised and scattered.

The price of being unable to perform is often low self-esteem, which in turn can result in other complications. Women with ADHD show higher rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders, all of which can precipitate negative self-image.

Divorce and unemployment is also more prevalent in women with undiagnosed ADHD, which can be either the cause or effect of the low self-esteem.

If you start showing any of these symptoms and you’re depressed or anxious about not having your life together you should see a doctor to see if it could be ADHD. Accurate diagnosis along with an effective treatment plan will alleviate symptoms and allow you to better manage your life.

Boost self-esteem 
Low self-esteem, although a significant psychological challenge, can be improved. Once you’ve consulted with a healthcare practitioner and decided on an effective treatment plan, you can start the journey to improving self-esteem.

Replace negative self-talk with positive. Set small, achievable goals and reward yourself for completing tasks. Reduce unnecessary commitments and stress and negotiate with colleagues, friends or your partner to assist with tasks, and find room to work the way you need to. Seek out professional psychological help if need be.

The diagnosis of ADHD, at any stage of life, might come as a welcome relief. It might help explain the many struggles experienced throughout your life – in work, relationships and negative self-image. And with an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment, the symptoms can be effectively managed for a more organised, peaceful and happier future.

PHZA/CONC/0117/0006b

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