Psychotherapist Lynn Lyons has noticed an unsettling trend: a wave of moms taking questionable online tests to self-diagnose as having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
On her podcast, “Flusterclux,” Lyons explains that she is skeptical of ADHD tests online and the results these women often receive.
"Women in a certain stage of life are not getting enough sleep, overextended, trying to raise their kids, still doing the majority of the caretaking and the housekeeping — despite our belief that we've evolved, it's not as good as we think — and they're just maxed out," Lyons tells TODAY.com.
"And the way that they're experiencing all of these challenges is to have difficulty remembering, feeling disorganized, forgetting things, having disturbances in sleep ... and so they're coming to the conclusion that they must have ADHD," she continues.
Once moms suspect that they have ADHD, they can go online to find various social media quizzes listing symptoms that are either vague or universal, leading to "confirmation" of the diagnosis. And then it often comes with an offer to sell something, like a "living with ADHD" program or guide.
"The whole self-diagnosis trend has a lot to do with people trying to understand why life feels so hard right now," Lyons explains.
ADHD symptoms in women
“I describe ADHD as you’ve got a Ferrari engine for a brain, but you’ve got bicycle brakes,” says Dr. Ned Hallowell, ADHD expert and author of “Driven to Distraction.”
ADHD tends to present differently in girls than in boys, showing up in things like a lack of executive functioning and organizational skills. Because girls with ADHD don't necessarily have disruptive behavior — Lyons says they are "less naughty" than boys with ADHD — they are often not diagnosed.
Although it might be true that girls are underdiagnosed, it does not mean that a mom who experiences some symptoms of ADHD actually has ADHD.
Whether it's self-diagnosing ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, gluten intolerance or the like, "a lot of these symptoms that, in particular, women experience are highly correlated to stress and to exhaustion and to caretaking young children and trying to make it in the professional world. So we look at these lists of symptoms and they all make sense in the in the current culture that a lot of women are trying to survive in," Lyons explains.
The evolution of quiz culture
Quizzes have been in the zeitgeist for ages. Whether they try to determine your school style, predict your future career or decide if you're a Carrie, Samantha, Miranda or Charlotte, magazine and early online quizzes were generally fun and breezy.
At some point, they flipped from figuring out if you're a Rachel or a Monica to diagnosing a psychiatric disorder.
"Online articles and quizzes about ADHD are not always accurate, because they often simplify the criteria or sometimes don’t portray the symptoms accurately," says Dr. Howard Liu, psychiatrist and chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Communication.
The goal of the quiz is to give you the diagnosis, so that then they will send you their product.”
Psychotherapist Lynn Lyons
“Now, the quiz is generally sponsored by somebody who’s selling you either a pharmaceutical or some sort of ADHD program that you can enroll in,” Lyons explains. “So the goal of the quiz is to give you the diagnosis, so that then they will send you their product.”
To receive a true ADHD diagnosis, women should, yes, take a quiz. But in the right scenario, the series of questions is distributed and assessed by a mental health professional.
Not all quizzes are created equal
The upside of taking an online quiz to diagnose ADHD is that it may encourage those who are struggling to seek additional help. "The gold standard if you suspect ADHD is to talk to a licensed mental health professional," Dr. Liu says.
A psychiatrist or psychologist will ask you a series of questions in an initial screening, and they will also conduct a clinical interview to decide if the symptoms are short term or long lasting (chronic). According to Dr. Liu, ADHD symptoms could be caused by another mental health disorder, such as depression, or caused by another physical health disorder, such as sleep apnea.
Dr. Liu points out that many mental health professionals have long wait lists. If that happens to be the case in your area, you may want to ask your primary care doctor if they are comfortable completing an initial assessment.
Because you are speaking with a knowledgeable human rather than answering multiple-choice questions on a website, you can explain the nuances of your situation, giving the provider clearer insight into your circumstances.
Look for patterns
"There are so many things that I think women in particular need to pay attention to before they come to the conclusion that there's something really wrong with their brain," says Lyons.
Lyons suggests looking at patterns in your life that may be leading to the symptoms you are experiencing. Once you take note of those patterns, you can start to build skills to improve your daily life.
"No matter what diagnosis we mental health people put on you, or you come up with on social media, there is so much that can be done when we look at things like sleep, and how much we're moving our bodies, and the quality of our relationships, and whether or not we're loading up on caffeine in the morning and putting ourselves to sleep with wine at night," Lyons says.