An increasing number of adults are getting diagnosed with ADHD, but there’s a lot we’re still learning

ADHD in Focus
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Speaking in a recent interview, Lily Allen revealed the news she had been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). “It sort of runs in my family,” explained the 38-year-old star, confirming she had joined a growing list of women who are being diagnosed as adults.  

While ADHD was once considered a condition affecting children, we now know that it continues into adulthood, and many people are now being diagnosed in their 30s, 40s or 50s. 

Watch Below: Em Rusciano calls for ADHD to be added to the NDIS

“There is a greater awareness of ADHD, which is probably one of the reasons why more people are starting to become diagnosed,” Melissa Webster, CEO of ADHD Australia says.  

Yet ADHD can also be controversial, and as the rate of diagnosis spikes in Australia and many other parts of the world, it has raised some heated debate.  

Abbie Chatfield
Abbie Chatfield was diagnosed last year, but says many people struggle to access treatment in Australia. (Credit: Getty)


ADHD is a neurological condition that comes in three subtypes. You can be mostly hyperactive-impulsive, mostly inattentive or a combination of both. Until recently, most of the conversation focused on the hyperactive form of ADHD, which is more likely to be picked up during childhood. “Inattentive ADHD has been historically harder to diagnose because it’s seen as more difficult to identify,” Webster explains. As our understanding of ADHD grows, it’s led to a rise in diagnoses – in children but also adults who may have previously slipped through the cracks. Also, until recently most ADHD studies focused on hyperactivity, but it is now known that the inattentive subtype is more common in girls and women. “There is definitely more research now that is starting to look into females,” Webster reveals. 


Everyone with ADHD is different, but some of the main symptoms include hyperactivity, impulse control issues, inattention, forgetfulness, having trouble listening and a tendency to lose things. Pretty much everyone has some of these symptoms – and let’s face it, modern technology hasn’t helped – but for people with ADHD, it affects their ability to function on a day-to-day basis.   Webster says there are also other conditions that can look like ADHD. “Anxiety, depression, learning disorders, physical health – many conditions can cause similar symptoms to ADHD,” she says. “What I would say is that it is really important to get the correct diagnosis and to receive the right support.” ADHD always starts in childhood, and while some people aren’t diagnosed until adulthood, the symptoms will have been there all along.  

Lilly Allen
Lily Allen revealed the news she had been diagnosed with ADHD. (Credit: Getty)


ADHD medication prescriptions have more than doubled in the past decade, and that rate is expected to rise.   While many experts believe this is a sign that we’re finally identifying the true number of sufferers, some critics say ADHD is at risk of becoming overdiagnosed. Some services in the UK and US have recently come under scrutiny over their assessment methods.“It still remains controversial,” Webster says. “What is very clear, however, is that ADHD is often still misunderstood, undertreated and incorrectly treated.” There are also concerns that a large number of people are still falling through the cracks, due to the challenges and costs that come with getting treatment.  Webster says she meets many people who are struggling to get the guidance they need. “It’s impacting their life significantly and the supports are not available,” she says. 


These days it’s hard to talk about ADHD without mentioning social media – especially TikTok, which has been credited with raising awareness, but also slammed for often spreading misinformation.  “We know from what people tell us that some people find that [awareness raising]beneficial,” Webster says. “What I would say is there’s a lot of misleading, inaccurate information that also causes confusion and upset.” While there are some legitimate experts on TikTok, studies have shown the majority of ADHD-related videos contain inaccuracies. “It’s really important during this stage, that people just be mindful around what they look at in social media,” she says.  

Geena Davis
“I found out at 41 that I had a pretty strong case of ADHD,” says Geena Davis, 67. “I assumed that it would be impossible that I had that, because I was profoundly not hyperactive.” (Credit: Getty)


If you think you might be suffering from ADHD,  see a GP who can refer you for assessment. While some psychologists can diagnose ADHD, medication can only be prescribed by a psychiatrist or paediatrician. That might sound simple, but with many services overstretched, waiting lists are often long. Not all psychiatrists specialise in ADHD, and those that do can be expensive.  Webster says the assessment process can differ depending on the clinic. “There’s no single test that can confirm the diagnosis,” she explains. “They’ll be looking at a range of different things.”  This could include asking questions about your life, childhood and family history, as well as potential tests or physical examinations. A number of stimulant and non-stimulant medications are available. While these can be life-changing for some people, there are plenty of other options on offer, including behaviour therapy, skills training and psychological counselling.  


Some people find that receiving a diagnosis is a huge relief, but it can also be traumatic. However, Webster says people need to know that they can still lead full lives.  “It’s important that people raise awareness, and they appreciate all of the great things that individuals with ADHD bring. Yes, there are challenges, but by working together with family members and colleagues, those challenges can be overcome,” she says. “With the right support, people can be very successful.”

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