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ADHD: Women in Asia struggle for diagnosis and help

Katja Sterzik
August 13, 2023

TikTok is awash with misleading information on ADHD. There's also a gender bias among doctors. It's left women in Asia fighting for a diagnosis and help.


Are you clumsy? Do you think your friends secretly hate you? Well, then you must have ADHD. At least, you may think that if you follow videos on social media, like Instagram and TikTok. But don’t fret.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2022 found that 52% of content about ADHD on TikTok is misleading. Some videos were found to include fake symptoms, such as clumsiness and "rejection sensitivity dysphoria." The latter isn’t even a medical term. It certainly isn’t recognized by doctors as a condition, and it does not appear on official lists used by psychiatrists and psychologists and medical professionals in the diagnosis of ADHD, or Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, a mental health condition.

Blind spots and gender bias in ADHD diagnosis

But here’s the thing with ADHD: For a long time, even those officially recognized symptoms have included significant blind spots — most of which affect girls and women. That is, their symptoms have often been dismissed or simply overlooked.

The reason for that lies in a historical understanding that ADHD presents as hyperactivity, making wild, screaming little boys struggling at school the textbook example for people with ADHD.

Meanwhile, quiet, daydreaming girls were often overlooked  — no one ever considered that they may be living with ADHD.

But daydreaming is a very real symptom of ADHD. Other symptoms include:

  • forgetfulness and misplacing things a lot
  • squirming or fidgeting
  • talking too much
  • making careless mistakes or taking unnecessary risks
  • having a hard time resisting temptation

"But the leading symptom is [a person having] trouble managing [their levels of] attention," says Alexandra Philipsen, Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Bonn and an expert in ADHD.

Fight for diagnosis and treatment

Jnanee from Singapore and Alisha and Sonal from India had to wait until they were adults before they were diagnosed with ADHD. And all those years while they waited, they experienced significant struggles in their personal, educational and professional lives. Among those struggles were problems with maintaining attention and staying focused. Many people can relate to those feelings.

But in this video you will see why that doesn’t necessarily mean you have ADHD, why a diagnosis is quite complex and how these three women from Southeast Asia fought their way to a diagnosis. An ADHD diagnosis certainly isn’t all doom. It’s helped people harness pretty amazing strengths.

Edited by: Zulfikar Abbany

DW Mitarbeiterportrait | Katja Sterzik
Katja Sterzik Science journalist with a passion for visual storytelling, TikTok/Insta/YouTube and skateboarding
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