Sophie shares her personal experience of ADHD diagnosis in her twenties, mixed in with a discussion about ADHD and TikTok.

– Sophie Head

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
ADHD goes undiagnosed, unspotted and unrecognised in so many women with a quite
detrimental impact. This can be traumatic because women often get diagnosed
with other mental health disorders where treatment may alleviate some symptoms
but worsen others. The textbook patient with ADHD is an 8-year-old boy, who is
incredibly distractable, rowdy and rambunctious. This behaviour becomes
inconvenient for mainstream schools to deal with and so diagnosis and
subsequent treatment is offered very swiftly. My experience, however, couldn’t
have been more opposite. Like many neurodivergent women, my symptoms were more
internalised and gendered expectations in society taught me to mask my
behaviour. My symptoms have been much more on the attention deficit side of the
disorder. I turn twenty-one later this year and I was only recently diagnosed
with such and am still awaiting treatment. I went through high school believing
that everyone’s mind was in constant chaos like mine and focus was impossible. I
was convinced I was lazy and had formed bad habits. What I now know as a
dopamine deficiency, I blamed my own personality and decision making on. In my
teenage years, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression – I took medicine,
had therapy etc.  The treatment somewhat
helped, but at the end of the day, I found it impossible to focus for the
amount of time needed for my degree, I felt exhausted after minor tasks, and I
was struggling socially too. Something was not right.

Coming to university was a big wakeup call for me. On the
one hand, I had been at school which was a structured 8-hour day with all my
learning essentially being spoon-fed and printed off in nice booklets. School
was much easier for me to focus on, and attendance was legally required. Whilst
school was challenging, and focusing on homework was difficult, the nature of
school minimised my symptoms.  On the
other hand, at university I am now an independent learner needing to make my
own schedule. Even worse, I started in 2020 and so libraries, cafes and
in-person teaching were closed. The pandemic robbed me of routine, but
highlighted core issues that needed to be addressed deep within my brain and
myself as a person. I was surrounded by other Cambridge students smashing 12-hour
workdays when I could barely bring myself to do 2 hours of work. And dare
anyone suggest it was a lack of passion for my topic area – because when I do work,
I enjoy it, but the mental barrier is so intense, it doesn’t matter how much I
love my degree, I still have ADHD.

The ADHD diagnosis instilled an identity crisis in me
because everything I used to think was just me being quirky was actually just
undiagnosed ADHD. I couldn’t tell what was me and what was the ADHD. I couldn’t
tell if the hobbies I’d had all the way from childhood to now were all just
remnants of getting invested quickly with the dopamine and then very quickly
getting bored again. Yet, even with a diagnosis, I questioned my own journey
with ADHD. This was due to recent work on the legitimacy of content around ADHD
on social media which investigated the quality of content on TikTok.
Researchers wanted to check the accuracy and the type of content about ADHD. Researchers
classified videos into three categories: misleading, useful or personal
experience. Fifty-two percent of the videos were classified as misleading and
twenty-one percent as useful. Researchers concluded that clinicians should be
heavily aware of widespread misinformation on social media and its potential
impact on healthcare. Harm can be done by posting incorrect information on
social media and can even perpetuate common misconceptions and stigma of ADHD
and mental health. 

Consuming content around mental health on social media may
provide someone with the ability to recognise their own symptoms and seek help.
Furthermore, TikTok is an app that is a quick click dopamine hit. It is so easy
to swipe and watch countless videos. This app doesn’t require a huge attention
span or a lot of focus and so it makes sense that it has opened conversation
about ADHD. Now, the move is to encourage people to seek professional help and
avoid self-diagnosis. ADHD is often forgotten about in mental health, and yet
with many behavioural symptoms, it is heavily stigmatised. I did not choose to
be born with a brain with a dopamine deficiency. We can work together to give airtime
and destigmatise mental health. Please seek professional help if anything you
read impacts you. And do not take TikToks as mental health gospel.   

We know that supporting a friend with their mental health isn’t
always easy. Student Minds is here to help – read our Look After Your Mate guidance. 

Hi, I am Sophie Head a second-year Psychology (PBS) student at Uni of Cambridge. I recently saw a Cambridge Tab article about your blog and wanted to get involved. Since my diagnosis with ADHD, having previously had anxiety and depression, I felt that ADHD was excluded from the mental health conversation, even though lots of symptoms are very similar or even co-morbid. I wanted to add my angle and experience as a woman diagnosed in university but also recent ADHD controversy on TikTok.

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