Thursday 7 April 2022


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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