I’ve written before about the work of Dr. Timothy Bilkey, a leading Canadian authority on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Bilkey has assessed over 3,400 patients for ADHD at his clinics.
This month, Bilkey has released his second full length documentary, Her Fast Mind. This film, useful to educators, families and physicians, as well as women with ADHD themselves, explores ADHD across the lifespan as it specifically presents in women. Bilkey debunks the myth of ADHD being a medical condition predominantly affecting males, and shows the important differences in ADHD in women and how these have led to women’s under-diagnosis.
I recently spoke with Dr. Bilkey about his film. Here’s our conversation (abridged for this blog post).
ZK: Why did you want to make a film about women and ADHD?
DR. B: Women with ADHD are the most under recognized group with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In our clinics [Bilkey ADHD Clinic] 50% of the people that I see are actually females. It’s a very important population, and rarely diagnosed as kids.
ZK: What do you hope the film will accomplish?
DR. B: The film is mostly directed at people who are in relationships with someone who has ADHD, or someone herself who has it. So, picking up on the red flag symptoms, self-identification so if they do have ADHD, that they would be able to get help for themselves.
ZK: How is assessing women different from assessing men?
DR. B: The issue with women with ADHD is societal expectations; a woman’s role demands that she functions in multiple areas. They’re making lists, they’ve got lots of stickies, they spend tons of effort just staying on top of things but …it’s sort of like the swan going across the river: it’s very serene, looks very good, everything seems to be fine. But if you look beneath the surface, the feet are going at this very frenetic pace. So, the point of recognizing the condition and in getting treated is to reduce the amount of burden that women carry.
ZK: What will we learn from your film that we don’t already know about women and ADHD?
DR. B: What we’re going to learn is how a woman typically would present …the kinds of typical difficulties that she would have.
Women often will present with other conditions such as anxiety or mood [disorders]. Sometimes physicians will be able to make that diagnosis, but they’ll miss the underlying lifelong difficulties of distractibility, forgetfulness, and disorganization. This film will highlight these things.
ZK: Mary Solanto, Associate Professor and Director, ADHD Center, Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai Medical Center, is quoted on the cover of Her Fast Mind, saying that women with ADHD have “unique gifts.” What are these gifts?
DR. B: In women with ADHD there’s a creative, quick thinking aspect to it. They come up with solutions quite quickly, and I think that’s a real gift.
I also think that people with ADD are intuitive and empathic. So, if you’ve had a condition lifelong that has made you feel not 100%, you doubt yourself a lot. I think that that can make people more sensitive to other people’s misfires. And, instead of judging other people, it makes somebody sensitive to understanding the other person. I think that, as a baseline, offers a unique set of skills.
ZK: Is ADHD the fountain of youth? I’m looking at the babes on the cover of your video and I’m going, Oh my God, these guys are cougars. They’re probably 60, right? They’re beautiful! They’re ADHD women!
DR. B: [laughing] I think that ADD does confer to women that kind of energy and zest. They’re passionate people, and passions are what drive us. So, you never get bored; there’s always going to be something else around the corner…as opposed to somebody who may not have ADHD and they’re just looking forward to early retirement – which most of my [clients] are not looking forward to. So yeah, they continue to live their lives, they’ve got lots of energy, and it makes life interesting in many ways.
ZK: What’s your best advice for a woman with ADHD?
DR. B: If you suspect that you’ve got ADHD…then you need to research who’s around that’s really experienced and … advocate for yourself by going to your doctor and saying, “Look, I found somebody who specializes in this…could you refer me?”
ZK: And what about a woman who’s already been diagnosed with ADHD?
DR. B: The treatment for ADHD with women is always going to be multifaceted. It’s being careful to sleuth out which interventions might be most appropriate because everybody I think has a different version [of ADHD] so you can’t apply any kind of treatment carte blanche.
I think that the core issue with a woman being diagnosed with ADHD is self-esteem. We see many people who are very skilled but they’re undershooting how well they can do. And it’s not good enough to settle just because you may have struggled quietly with this condition.
Your life can be very, very different. If it boils down to ADHD, [with treatment] your life can have a very different trajectory and self-esteem improves.
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