Olivia Attwood: ‘So Many Girls With ADHD Go Undiagnosed’

The former Love Islander speaks to Grazia about how her ADHD diagnosis as an adult changed her life.

olivia attwood

by Bonnie McLaren |

You might know her from Love Island, her time on TOWIE, or from her own reality spin-offs, but Olivia Attwood is on a mission to raise awareness about ADHD in adult women. Speaking about the condition on her reality show (Olivia Meets Her Match), which follows her upcoming wedding to fiancé Bradley Dack, she described how her ‘anxiety was through the roof’ prior to Love Island - and that it was only after seeking help from a psychiatrist she was made aware her ADHD could be playing a part in her anxiety.

‘There are people that say ADHD is an excuse for naughty child,’ Olivia tells Grazia over the phone, a week after the episode aired. ‘I think that's the most uneducated, narrow-minded view. And I think people should think very carefully before they speak - it’s a recognised psychiatric thing. It's not made up.'

Even now, ADHD is still a condition stereotypically associated with young boys. But, unlike many women, Olivia was originally diagnosed with ADHD when she was at school. (In the UK, ADHD is thought to affect 5% of school-aged children, with boys four times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition.) However, she didn’t think it was something which could follow her into adult life. Describing her symptoms as ‘making decisions [which] could be detrimental to my own safety’, impulsiveness, mood swings and being sensitive to crowds and loud noises, Olivia says a second diagnosis - after she went through a period of anxiety and depression - completely changed her life. ‘My ADHD was almost at the root of everything, because I didn't know I was dealing with that,’ she says. ‘It was causing the anxiety and the anxiety was causing me to feel depressed.’

'The way it was described to me - and it's a perfect way to describe it - is like having a computer with too many tabs open,' she adds. 'So like, other people might have three or four tabs running at a time. But if you have ADHD, you could have 20 plus tabs running. It's like your brain is always going like a million miles an hour with all these thoughts.'

The reality star has been open about taking antidepressants in the past, but Olivia isn’t on medication for ADHD (her younger brother, who was diagnosed when he was at university, is). In order to manage her symptoms day to day, she makes a daily list of tasks, and she's also cut down on coffee (she only drinks one a day) and alcohol (‘I don’t drink at home’).

'I can almost catch myself on a day when my all my computer tabs are all over my brain,' she says. 'And I can say, "Okay, now, I need to actively shut some tabs." Whereas before, I wouldn't know what was going on - so I was just running around like a headless chicken, kind of drowning.'

Because the condition isn’t well understood or easily spotted in women, sometimes it takes a low period - or a feeling of a loss of control - for women to be diagnosed. Lottie Moss recently revealed she was diagnosed with ADHD in July, and candidly spoke about the issues she faced with substance abuse prior to her diagnosis. ‘I was diagnosed with ADHD this year and knowing about it and being on right medication has changed my life and it could save someone else's,' the model told her Instagram followers. 'There's a lot of anxiety, depression and substance abuse that comes with having ADHD, just as a result of not knowing you have it or being misdiagnosed.’

While Olivia says that she wasn’t drinking during her low point, she adds that her relationship with alcohol has been ‘up and down’, and she can understand why some people with ADHD can foster unhealthy relationships with substances. ‘You introduce alcohol - or whatever it might be - and it can create a series of effects that could be probably quite addictive,’ she says, ‘because you feel calmness when you crave that so much.’

Olivia has touched on the condition before on social media - but it was never a conscious decision for her to be so open about it. Instead, the TOWIE star says she ‘blurted’ it out during an Instagram Q&A on her story, but the positive reaction from others with ADHD meant she felt inclined to raise awareness. ‘There was no intent behind it,’ she says. ‘I kind of just said “Oh, yeah, I guess that's my ADHD. That's why I'm like that.” And literally, my DMS exploded. [My followers] were like, "What do you have ADHD? Like, I've never known anyone in the public eye to speak about having ADHD."’

She hopes that, through being so open, more young women will be able to ‘unleash their potential’ by managing their symptoms after a diagnosis. ‘So many girls go undiagnosed because girls mature faster, and they become socialised faster,’ she says. ‘So whereas a boy at school might be 13 years old, swinging off the light fittings, being reckless, and someone will be like “Oh, classic ADHD” - girls start to monitor their own behavior to hide it.’

Seeking help - if you suspect you have ADHD and think it’s impacting your life - is of course harder now due to the pandemic. However, you can still speak to your GP without going into a practice. Or book a one-off private consultation, which is what Olivia did (and recommends - if you have the financial means, as she failed to get a diagnosis from her GP). ‘Be careful with your research: you can go down a WebMD hole and read loads of crap. Make sure it’s from a reputable source, like the NHS, and try and do a bit of research. And then if you feel like you meet those criteria - and it's inhibiting your happiness or your ability to succeed - then take the next step.’

‘I think once people who have ADHD find their happiness - it's as if there's a magic there as well,’ she adds. ‘Because people who are quite impulsive and carefree also have quite interesting personalities - I think it's just about getting it under control.’

Olivia Meets Her Match is on Sundays at 10pm on ITVBe.

READ MORE: Love Island's Amber Gill On Managing Her Mental Health

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