A sense of belonging: The inspirational women on the frontline of ADHD TikTok
ADHD TikTok is transforming the way that the disability is viewed. I spoke to the women who are battling stigma and creating communities on the platform.
In the last 7 days, more than 5 thousand videos have been posted to TikTok using #ADHD. The hashtag is now a category for over 2 million videos with an incredible 42 billion views worldwide.
As the trending social movement continues to grow, as does the controversy surrounding it. Many are claiming that the platform is encouraging misdiagnosis and contributing to soaring NHS waiting times. One study has found 52% of ADHD TikToks to contain misleading information, and regards just 21% of the content as useful.
However, many young women facing diagnosis are reliant on the platform for the sense of community and belonging it offers them. Priyanka Patel, or ‘Little Miss ADHD’ as her 106.8k TikTok followers know her, is one of countless women who sought an ADHD diagnosis after relating to TikTok content. Priyanka is a clinical mental health pharmacist who is using her growing platform and medical expertise for good by sharing her journey, health tips and advice, as well as posting educational illustrations to her 4k Instagram followers.
When speaking with Priyanka, her pure passion and dedication for raising ADHD awareness is clear. She said ‘if just one woman sees my videos and it helps her the way that it helped me, that would be amazing.’ Opening up about the hardship she has faced and the way that TikTok has been a salvation for her while she was ‘in limbo’ waiting for a diagnosis, Priyanka described:
‘When I first got my diagnosis, I felt like a circus freak, because I was like, okay, everyone around me is not like me, they can do the simple things, they don’t struggle the way that I do and then when I started my TikTok, started my Instagram, built a community, connected with people…I then found my family, I found my people, you know I didn’t feel like a circus freak anymore.’
Despite TikTok’s power to spread awareness and positivity, Priyanka recognises that ADHD influencers ‘all have a duty to make sure and disclaim on our video’s that this is our lived experience; don’t use it to diagnose’. In her experience, ‘some people can appear to mock the condition and make it seem like it’s some sort of airy fairy quirky thing to have.’
While the ADHD symptoms do vary drastically between individuals, not all TikTokers are as upfront as Priyanka about the harsh realities of the disability. Some influencers have been criticised for glamorising debilitating aspects of ADHD. Frustrated at the misrepresentation of impulsivity, she explained:
‘[They’re] not going to talk about the fact that we impulsively speed and get speeding tickets, and dangerously drive, and risk our own health, we impulsively spend, we can end up in debt.’
Like many women in the UK, Priyanka was told by medical professionals that her symptoms were due to depression, not ADHD. But as her mental health continued to deteriorate and more TikToks appeared on her feed, she was ‘so sure’ that she had ADHD and so continued the fight for a referral. After an 18 month battle, Priyanka got her referral.
Then came ‘the hardest part’...waiting for a diagnosis. Despite her first-hand struggles, the influencer was keen to hit back at those who blame TikTok for increasing NHS waiting times. She states that:
‘If you look back at any sort of medical condition when you see the peak of awareness of that condition, of course the referrals and diagnosis for that are going to go up.’
Priyanka described her diagnosis experience as similar to the ‘five stages of grief’, and she is not alone in that feeling.
Rising influencer Bella Clements is a masters student who balances student life with maintaining her own podcast and TikTok platform ‘You’ve got mail’. Her weekly episodes reach over 25k listeners and her TikToks have attracted almost 50k followers. Bella was diagnosed with ADHD after a housemate recognised many of her symptoms as being consistent with the disability. She previously justified these symptoms as being ‘anxiety and overthinking’, and simply accepted that she ‘feels things more deeply than other people’.
During her second year in university, Bella found herself unable to carry on and feeling the need to drop out, she said ‘I just couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do everything that I needed to do’. Thankfully, Bella reached out for help and support; therapy gave her the coping mechanisms that she needed to carry on. Much like Priyanka, Bella experienced a bitter-sweet feeling after her diagnosis:
‘It kind of felt like I was grieving for my past self because everything that I had been struggling with…It made things make a lot more sense but I did feel sad for the little girl that had to deal with all these things on her own.’
Bella has benefited from a ‘sense of community’ online by sharing aspects of her journey. In her opinion, TikTok is a ‘really easily accessible way to understand information’. While she recognises the dangers of the platform and how easy it is to forget that not everything you see is factual, in her experience, ‘I struggled to find this new identity within myself…hearing other people’s experiences of ADHD makes me feel so much more supported and valid.’
While both inspirational women are thankful for the way that TikTok has raised awareness and created a community for those with ADHD, they both believe that ‘it’s still a fighting battle’ and ‘we’ve got a long way to go’ in removing the stigma and prejudice associated with the label.