Why Are Adults Going Undiagnosed?

The number of adults who are currently undiagnosed can't be nailed down precisely, but the estimates may be much higher than you'd expect. Some experts believe that as many as 75% of adults who have ADHD don't know they have it.

ADHD doesn't actually appear in adulthood. Instead, it persists from childhood into adulthood in about 35% to 65% of cases. This means that the adults who are undiagnosed now were also undiagnosed as children.

ADHD was first introduced as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) with hyperactivity in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980. Those who grew up before that time may have missed out on a childhood diagnosis due to a lack of awareness of the condition in the medical community.

There are also many women who aren't diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood. Symptoms can appear differently in females than in males, and some of the behaviors most closely associated with the disorder (particularly hyperactivity) correspond much more with how ADHD presents in boys. This has led to higher rates of diagnosis among boys, while girls' symptoms are often dismissed or misdiagnosed as being caused by something else. Even though women are just as likely to have ADHD as men, they are more likely to go undiagnosed.

Effects on Mental Health

Many adults with ADHD also struggle with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or mood disorders. There's also an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, like personality disorders, among adults with ADHD.

ADHD doesn't cause these psychological problems, but the symptoms can often overlap or exacerbate one another. Having ADHD along with other mental health challenges can make finding the right treatments more challenging.

Some of the effects of ADHD on mental health seem to affect more women than men. Females with ADHD report lower self-esteem and poorer self-image compared to their peers. In addition, issues like disordered eating, diagnosed eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, sleep problems, mood disorders, tic disorders, and self-harm all occur more frequently in females with ADHD in comparison with their male counterparts.

These types of co-occurring mental health struggles are relatively common with ADHD, but treatment can help. Unfortunately, adults with ADHD who are undiagnosed tend to struggle more because one of their key mental health issues isn't being addressed.

Other Complications of Undiagnosed ADHD

Mental health issues become much more pronounced when ADHD goes undiagnosed. Healthcare providers may attempt to treat other mental health concerns, but when ADHD is left untreated, it can create a series of ripple effects that negatively affect an individual's life.

For example, adults with ADHD have a much higher incidence of substance abuse issues compared to the general population. People with ADHD are also more likely to get into car accidents or get fired from their jobs. They also have higher rates of divorce, particularly when their ADHD has not been diagnosed.

Adults with undiagnosed ADHD often experience major challenges in a number of other areas, all without realizing that the disorder is the main contributing cause. These issues may include:

  • Being easily distracted
  • Struggling to stay organized and prioritize tasks and obligations
  • Being forgetful and having difficulty listening
  • A feeling of restlessness which makes it hard to relax
  • Frequently running late
  • Difficulty controlling emotions

Without the proper treatment for ADHD, the disorder can potentially wreak havoc on not only an individual's mental health, but also their job, their relationships, and even their physical safety.

The Good News About ADHD

Examining the many ways that ADHD can potentially cause harm, particularly to someone's mental health, is difficult. It's not easy to face the potential destruction that this disorder can cause in someone's life.

But it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. When ADHD is diagnosed and treated, it can be very manageable. Taking medication can significantly improve symptoms for 70% or more of adults with ADHD. And there are other targeted therapies and coping strategies which can be deployed on top of prescription treatment to help minimize ADHD behaviors.

At Done, we can help adults with ADHD get the care they need. After filling out a simple, one-minute assessment, you'll have the opportunity to make an appointment with one of our licensed ADHD clinicians. They can determine whether you qualify for a diagnosis, recommend helpful treatments, and prescribe ADHD medication. One appointment could change your life, so don't put off getting the care you need any longer.