The hashtag #adhd has more than 11 billion views on TikTok. Kind of a big deal. This social-media embrace of ADHD has upsides. One of them: It’s destigmatized a condition that’s long been underdiagnosed in women. But there are also downsides. Think: misinformation. That’s where we come in.
Tell me more about ADHD TikTok.
Social media is “opening up dialogue” about a topic that’s been tricky to talk about, according to Dr. Sasha Hamdani, a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD and has it herself. She said she’s seen firsthand how videos about ADHD symptoms on TikTok have encouraged people to come see her for an evaluation. (And she’s made her own TikToks about what it’s like to live with ADHD.)
As the popularity of #adhd topics grew online over the last couple of years, so too did the launch of health care companies that claimed to offer counseling, mental health services, and delivery of prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin (which were harder to get during lockdown). On the surface, being able to get those medications with less of a wait sounds like a good thing…right?
But when you dig deeper: Not all the info on TikTok about who needs ADHD meds is accurate. And although Dr. Hamdini said she was initially excited about companies like telehealth startup Cerebral offering ADHD treatment online, she later realized that prescribing medicine that way could make it harder to ensure quality care.
Cerebral has faced criticism over its prescribing practices from ex-employees in recent months. And its former VP filed a lawsuit that claimed the company over-prescribed ADHD drugs. The DOJ has launched an investigation into the company over possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act. And last week, Cerebral announced that it'll stop prescribing certain drugs, including Adderall. CVS has said it would stop taking controlled substance prescriptions from certain telehealth companies, including Cerebral, The Wall Street Journal reported.
But if getting info from telehealth groups isn’t a sure thing, where do you actually start? By getting educated on what ADHD is and why women have historically been underdiagnosed. So let’s talk to Dr. Hamdani about all that.
Give me the basics: What is ADHD?
It’s a neurodevelopmental condition that typically starts in childhood and “presents as a constellation of symptoms” related to inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, said Dr. Hamdani. Hence the name — ADHD — stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Thing to know: “ADD” can sometimes be used to describe the disorder in people who aren’t hyper (aka inattentive-type ADHD). But the term without the “H” is outdated and no longer officially used.
Why is ADHD underdiagnosed in women, and what are symptoms?
For starters, it’s because the ADHD conversation has long been “centered on hyper little boys,” said Dr. Hamdani. Which means that many women who might’ve had ADHD decades ago — but didn’t, say, disrupt class like some of the boys did — went underdiagnosed. Thing to know: Boys are more than twice as likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls.
And in adulthood, women might continue to mask their ADHD symptoms. Think: sitting on your hands or crossing your legs in a board meeting so you’re not bouncing around. Or writing down an idea before you speak to make sure you don’t say something impulsive (which is something Dr. Hamdani does). Other ways ADHD can manifest: having trouble starting or finishing tasks, being unable to remember routine things like whether you brushed your teeth, and constantly forgetting where you put your wallet, Dr. Hamdani said.
She added that a number of women don’t get diagnosed until they have trouble managing their work and life, and start looking for answers. Or until they have children with ADHD symptoms, and realize they also identify with the condition.
When should you seek an ADHD diagnosis?
According to Dr. Hamdani, as soon as you find yourself asking, ‘Do I have ADHD?’
You could find yourself asking that question if you’re having trouble focusing at work, communicating in a relationship, or keeping your home organized. Or maybe a (legit) TikTok really spoke to you.
If that sounds familiar, then it might be time to talk to a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD (like Dr. Hamdani) about an evaluation. (Here’s a guide for finding the right therapist.) Getting diagnosed with ADHD could help you understand “your internal environment,” Dr. Hamdani said.
But she also said that it’s problematic when people become immediately convinced they have ADHD. And try to use certain prescriptions right away, without the supervision of a physician. Because ADHD drugs that are improperly used (think: taking Adderall or Ritalin when you don’t have a medical need for it) can cause side effects like sleep disruption, stomach pain, shortness of breath, depression, tics, and eating issues.
If you have ADHD, how can you manage it?
Managing ADHD boils down to two categories of treatment, Dr. Hamdani said. They are:
Behavioral therapy…Aka figuring out how your neurodivergent brain works. That could mean meeting with a therapist or counselor who can give you tools for taking care of your physical and mental health (info that Dr. Hamdani also shares in her new book). Think: anything from getting better at saying ‘no’ when necessary, to being more deliberate about your to-do list or practicing breathing exercises.
Medication…When you’re looking to manage your symptoms from a medical perspective. But what you’re prescribed — if anything — depends on several factors. Among them: Are you also dealing with depression and/or anxiety? Do you have high blood pressure? Would you benefit more from a stimulant or nonstimulant medication? These are all questions to answer with the help of a doctor.
ADHD has long been underdiagnosed in women. But now that the topic’s huge on TikTok, there’s continued concern about people self-diagnosing and potentially over-medicating. So if you find yourself watching videos and thinking ‘I might have ADHD,’ talk to a mental health professional about an evaluation and next steps.
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