‘We’re missing the girls’: Why women with ADHD are still slipping through the cracks

In a series of interviews, women and experts weigh in on how ADHD is often misdiagnosed in women. Produced by Natalia Weichsel.

The first thing Alex Neufeldt, 25, does in the morning is take her daily dose of Concerta, a small blue pill that contains a low dose of 27 milligrams of the stimulant methylphenidate. After, she continues her day as a business owner and student at Ottawa’s Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design.

To further keep herself on track, Neufeldt routinely consults calendar reminders, phone notifications and detailed to-do lists.

Although these organizational skills are practiced by many, they especially help Neufeldt manage her responsibilities as someone who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that first presents itself in early childhood. Traits and symptoms vary from person to person and exist on a spectrum of behaviours that include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

When most people hear the term ADHD, they might picture young, overly active boys who have difficulty sitting still and staying focused. What they rarely envision are smart and accomplished women who are struggling to keep themselves organized and their emotions in check.

According to the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, young girls and adult women living with ADHD often go undiagnosed. As a result, many are left wondering why they were missed by the healthcare system and left untreated for so long.

Neufeldt was diagnosed during her senior year of high school and has practiced strategies to manage her ADHD ever since.

“It would have been nicer to have [a diagnosis] a little bit earlier,” Neufeldt said, adding that she believes she could have “achieved more” or “opened more doors” had she known how to properly manage her ADHD from a young age.

Marlo Hepburn, 27, is in the process of seeking a formal diagnosis for her ADHD. A recent graduate with an acting diploma from Calgary’s Ambrose University, she never suspected that she could be living with an undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder.

“It had never even crossed my mind because ADHD is like hyperactive 10-year-old boys,” Hepburn said with a laugh.

Hepburn never displayed these symptoms. Instead, she was a bright student who excelled in her classes.  

“I was always able to function, so in the really stereotypical ways, I don’t look like anything is wrong,” Hepburn said.

She is part of a larger demographic of women who are discovering that they have ADHD well into their mid-20s and 30s.

Alex Neufeldt (pictured on the left) and Marlo Hepburn (pictured on the right) are open about their experience living with ADHD in their mid-20’s

Why women are misdiagnosed:

Heidi Bernhardt founded the Centre for ADHD Awareness, based in Toronto. She said ADHD in women is often left undiagnosed because they generally do not display easily identifiable behaviours.

“Very often, their symptoms will be more subtle,” Bernhardt said, explaining that this comes as a result of women being more likely to have the inattentive presentation of ADHD.

Hormone imbalances are also responsible for the misdiagnosis of women with ADHD.

“We tend to see ADHD in girls come out when their hormones kick in, but then people don’t recognize that as a symptom,” Bernhardt said.

As a result, girls get referred far less often to a medical professional for assessment.

However, even speaking with a specialist doesn’t guarantee that women will be accurately diagnosed.

According to Bernhardt, doctors are more heavily trained in identifying comorbid symptoms such as anxiety and depression. This often leads to ADHD being overlooked while another illness is incorrectly diagnosed as the primary disorder.

“When they see symptoms of a woman being anxious and not being able to focus on getting her work done, [anxiety] might be their go-to diagnosis because that’s what they’re familiar with,” Bernhardt said.

“The underlying ADHD is what is often driving all of this. If it is not diagnosed then women are not treated effectively.”

These gaps in diagnoses are even more prevalent among women of colour and Indigenous people, Bernhardt said.

“Our biggest issue is a lack of knowledge about ADHD in general,” Bernhardt said, adding that doctors have additional biases from things they’ve heard in the media and inadequate training in mental health.

Pennsylvania based writer René Brooks has noted that few stories about ADHD reference Black people.

She started a blog called Black Girl, Lost Keys in 2014 to share her own experiences with ADHD, Black neurodivergence and mental health.

For some women, unnecessary suffering can last for decades.

“One in four women with ADHD have attempted suicide,” said Berhardt. “We’re missing many of the girls right when we could be supporting them.”

Speaking with your doctor about ADHD can be a daunting process.

Shannon Anderson, 26, co-founder of the smileML tech startup, said she “felt completely helpless” when a doctor dismissed her concerns regarding her ADHD medication.

“I still kind of get worked up thinking about it,” Anderson said, sharing how the doctor recommended that she stop taking Adderall after not believing her previous diagnosis.

“This person had some very unprofessional things to say to me and I was shocked,” Anderson said.

Jodi Laidlaw, 32, a part time bookseller, graphic designer and marketer, was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of 2021. She said that healthcare providers need to be more informed with how they approach female patients with ADHD, urging women to trust their instincts if they “feel like something is wrong.”

“Your healthcare provider should be a partner in this process with you,” said Laidlaw. “You should never feel dismissed and you should never feel ridiculed.”

Above all, Laidlaw believes that women should always have their medical needs taken seriously.

“You deserve an equitable relationship with your healthcare provider and you deserve to have a thorough understanding of what’s going on,” Laidlaw said.

Shannon Anderson (pictured on the left) and Jodi Laidlaw (pictured on the right). Both women began sharing their experiences with ADHD on TikTok during the pandemic.

How the TikTok generation is changing the conversation:

Despite the many challenges that are associated with obtaining an ADHD diagnosis, online platforms such as TikTok provide a welcoming space to those seeking more information.

Throughout the pandemic, both Laidlaw and Anderson amassed a large following on the social networking app, earning a combined total of approximately 145,000 followers between them. Their relatable and informative content has helped generate meaningful conversations surrounding a once unfamiliar topic.

Laidlaw accidentally gained traction online by speaking about her story of ADHD in an honest and transparent way.

In her videos, she shares personal experiences as well as meaningful advice to help other viewers who might have ADHD.

Laidlaw said that TikTok has also been an important tool in helping her cope with her own diagnosis.

“It is wild and bonkers that a platform most known for dancing teenagers has impacted my life in such a positive way,” she said.

When Anderson downloaded TikTok during the pandemic, she quickly realized that sharing her experience with ADHD could help others.

“I decided to start making content on TikTok just to share everything that I’ve learned because there’s no point in anyone having to reinvent the wheel twice,” she said.

Anderson’s lighthearted and trendy videos share lifehacks on how to manage ADHD in your everyday life. She said her content helped other women reflect on their own experiences and pursue formal diagnoses.

“It didn’t occur to them that they might have ADHD until seeing some of my videos and that’s what got them to talk to their doctor. That’s why they’re diagnosed today,” she said.

Hepburn accidentally came across TikTok’s ADHD community after a friend convinced her to download the app.  

“Every video was so specific,” Hepburn said, stressing the fact that seeing ADHD content online was “so helpful and so relevant.”

She was especially grateful to learn that she wasn’t alone in her experience.

“It was erasing all of these gross feelings of inadequacy and laziness,” Hepburn said. “There’s all these people who were having the same feelings as me and I saw that it’s not impossible and there’s resources.”


This video is like when you start writing a poster with confidence but have to squish the last 4 letters. #adhd #adhddiagnosis #adhdsymptoms

♬ Kouen – Lo-Fi Beats

Apart from belonging to an online community, Neufeldt stressed that real-life interactions are equally important in creating a positive impact on your life.

“If something is not working, get out,” she advised, persuading those who experience ADHD to befriend people who “understand you and who can complement your strengths and weaknesses.”

For Hepburn, the biggest relief has been connecting with her truest self.

“I’ve been looking at who I actually am and trying to be okay with that while realizing that I’m not wrong and people aren’t going to leave if they see the real me.”

To the metaverse and beyond

To the metaverse and beyond

Cavin Hayer, 25, is both excited and apprehensive about the metaverse. (Photo by Rajpreet Sahota)

For Cavin Hayer, the metaverse is the future and young people must prepare.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the metaverse is the next step of what social media has already done to our society,” Hayer said, “whether that’s good or bad. I’ve got mixed reviews.”

Hayer, 25, a finance manager who works for Bell Media in Toronto, thinks the metaverse is a virtual movement as powerful as globalization.

One of the principal architects of this digital world, Mark Zuckerberg, recently capitalized on the idea of the metaverse by changing Facebook’s name to Meta Platforms.

What all this means for how people will interact with one another in the future is murky. There are significant grey areas as far as regulations to address issues with sexual harassment and other ethical considerations in virtual reality spaces. But as the world inches out of the COVID-19 pandemic, major companies are flocking to invest in the next age of the internet.

And that has some advocates embracing this brave new world.

An entirely virtual space to interact

The term “metaverse” is credited to author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash where he described lifelike avatars who met and interacted in 3D environments.

For Zuckerberg, this means creating an entirely virtual space to exist and interact. Big tech companies have been building the metaverse infrastructure for the past decade. New models of smartphones are all augmented reality capable and virtual reality is finding ways to seamlessly enter the everyday world.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has highlighted how it plans to allow employees to meet in virtual spaces with their avatars using the Teams infrastructure they are already familiar with.

Screen shot of a Microsoft Mesh meeting with virtual avatars as participants
Microsoft unveiled its Mesh for Teams which allows users to join virtual meetings using their customizable personal avatars. (Photo provided by Microsoft)

Won Sook Lee, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, specializes in the human-computer interaction.

“Better human-computer interaction has the possibility to bring more equal opportunity to people,” Lee said. “We have to develop this technology to make it more comfortable.”

Lee said with any new technology, a small group adopts it quickly. A much larger group, sometimes referred to as the “moveable middle,” will pick up the tech only once the kinks have been worked out and they can seamlessly incorporate it in their life. Making this technology more comfortable can have the power to draw in Canadians who are hesitant about trying it.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s rapid advancements in digitization, or virtualisation as Hayer put, Lee said the direction of the metaverse is one that has been chosen for us.

“We have to think, is this really the good direction for humankind?,” Lee asked.

When virtual lives become ‘more enjoyable’ than real lives

Hayer is excited about the business opportunities available in the metaverse, listing off real estate, casinos and shopping centres as enticing avenues for investment.

Hayer also emphasized the opportunity for job creation through the metaverse.

“When I enter the metaverse casino, there is a virtual black-jack dealer who is maybe working somewhere on the other side of the world,” Hayer said.

“I am gambling, and they are getting paid to do that work.” Hayer said, adding he is excited by the prospect of introducing a human element to what was once a solitary experience on 2-D gambling platforms.

Hayer explained this monetization resides in the individuals using the platform and away from centralized websites like Facebook or Instagram. For example, in the metaverse you can create marketing spaces that do not exist in the real world. The potential for profit is skyrocketing, with real-estate currently selling for millions.

Hayer explains how there is finite real-estate to be purchased in the metaverse.

“The opportunities are endless, particularly in entertainment and retail,” Hayer said. He spoke to the new level of consumerism that is at its dawn as people will begin to purchase things for their Metaverse avatar.

 “We all like stuff, and now we can begin to like stuff virtually,” Hayer said.

At the same time, Hayer expressed concern over where to draw the line in placing too much value on something that is not real.

“We are already at the point where we all have a social profile where we identify ourselves in some form of social world,” Hayer said. 

“At the moment, we only have one screen, say an Instagram page. In the metaverse, we will be able to welcome our friends to our metaverse house to see how our friends live and dress.”

Jonah Brotman, 35, co-founder and CEO of Canada’s leading virtual reality (VR) services company House of VR, is proud to use his company’s reach to employ VR as a tool for empathy building in schools and communities.

Still, he is skeptical of the metaverse’s ethos. It’s being created by large companies for their own objectives, pushing young people to spend even more time on their screens than they already do.

“As Meta is growing, I worry that they are going to have in head-set advertisements at some point, and it would be terrible because you can’t look away,” Brotman said. 

When he founded the company in his early 30s he did not know the success it would see.

House of VR now leads diversity and inclusion workshops using VR devices, produces VR empathy films and does in school programming for education purposes.

“The scary tipping point will be when people find their virtual lives more enjoyable than their real lives,” Brotman said. “For many people in this world, that will not be that difficult. That is scary and the implications for that are really major.”

Brotman echoed Hayer’s belief that it is more intriguing to be in the metaverse with your friends, than passively scrolling with your thumb on a cell-phone.

Hayer cautioned users may come to enjoy VR more than their normal life.

“If this reaches a point where social media is today, what will you value more, your identity in the metaverse, or your identity in our real universe?” he asked. “The way I see the metaverse is that it is unstoppable at this point.”

Capacity for harm

Thea Berringer, 27, opened Colony VR in Ottawa in 2015 along with her parents and brother. The family’s vision was to host a community space to share their excitement about VR and offer the opportunity for groups to try out immersive experiences.

Echoing Brotman, Berringer explained VR is an empathy machine which allows people to fully immerse themselves in the perspectives of others.

“However, I also think the reverse is true. When you are getting rid of barriers, there is real risk of desensitization.” Berringer said.

“The abstraction of digital and real in VR is much slimmer,” she explained. “You are still touching someone’s body for example, even if you are not physically there.”

Sexual harassment was prevalent in Colony VR’s unique social settings. The conversation on consent became a routine need for teen parties held at Colony VR as sexual harassment of participants’ avatars was a daily occurrence.

Berringer, who now studies in the interaction, design and development program at Toronto’s George Brown College, explained a majority of those working in designing the infrastructure of VR are often male-presenting and white. This can inform the cultural and racial expressions they offer for the avatars that exist in the metaverse. This can also influence how the virtual infrastructure is coded, making it inaccessible to users who may not fit the coder’s own profile.

On top of this, Berringer is concerned about the loss of community spaces that are not privately owned. Can you loiter and just go for a walk in the metaverse, or do you always have to be consuming and engaging with something?

Since the pandemic began, her family business had to close its physical doors and now leads virtual workshops on VR for Ottawa based businesses.

Knowing about the shortfalls in VR regulation and ethics, Berringer was motivated to become an architect in the field and limit its capacity for harm.

What does this mean for the future?

Brotman pointed to the importance of QR codes during COVID-19 as an example of how quickly the metaverse is becoming a norm.

Hayer discusses the real-world applications of the metaverse.

“The goal is the blurring of digital and physical realities. It is going to happen,” Brotman said. “Right now technology is moving so fast. However far you think it is away, it will probably happen faster.”

Brotman wonders how his intrinsic desire to be outside and interact with other humans in person will mesh with the pull of the growing metaverse.

“If I’m totally honest, I am a little dystopian about it,” Brotman said. “I actually see more harm than good and that’s what concerns me.”

Despite some trepidation, Hayer is leaning in.

“People are starting to come around to the sense that it is here, especially because of COVID. This is the next step in terms of where technology takes us,” Hayer said.

There is a lot of cautiousness among his friends who are not already using it, while those who do are excited, he added. 

“This tells me that the more people use it, it will become mainstream quicker because the excitement will spread like wildfire.”

Into the storm: Canada’s nursing students prepare to join a field in crisis

Into the storm: Canada’s nursing students prepare to join a field in crisis

Mira Liao Parkinson, a fourth year nursing student at the University of Ottawa, says “it doesn’t seem like nurses are a priority.” Photo by Adam Beauchemin.

Mira Liao Parkinson, a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Ottawa and a member of the university’s nursing students’ association, wanted to work in a field where she could put her scientific know-how to work helping people.

As Parkinson enters the last semester of her undergraduate career, she says she is excited to spend more time in a hospital to sharpen her skills and shed her student label. 

But, her experiences as a student nurse have also left her with another feeling.

“It feels like I’m headed into this big storm,” said Parkinson.

“I knew, before the pandemic, about all the faults in the healthcare system,” Parkinson said. “Then, the pandemic happened, and it just really exposed all that, not only to us, but to everyone.”

Now in her final year of schooling, Parkinson is looking to break into the field of nursing at a tumultuous time.

“It’s really daunting, knowing that I’m going to graduate and then most likely, this pandemic will still be ongoing, and there will still be COVID patients,” Parkinson said. 

Since the spring of 2020, COVID-19 has laid bare problems in the nursing field. Across the country, hospitals are short-staffed and nurses are burning out from working exhausting overtime shifts.

As nurses leave the field en masse, nursing students are preparing to join a workforce in crisis. 

Licensed practical nurses vacancies jumped by 140 per cent from 2019 to 2020.

Registered nurses and psychiatric nurses saw the largest total increase in vacancies in Canada from 2019 to 2021.

Melanie Cairns, a fourth-year nursing student at Winnipeg’s Université de Saint-Boniface, has had many great experiences learning in hospitals and interacting with patients. However, her experiences in the field haven’t all been positive.

“Especially in the last year, it hasn’t been what I thought it would be. I’ve seen a lot of stress, burnout, and a toxic work environment,” said Cairns, who added that nurses didn’t sign up for such long hours and so much overtime.

Carling Gosselin, a student nurse also in her fourth year at Université de Saint-Boniface, explained the loss of some practical learning experiences due to the pandemic has impacted the education of many student nurses. 

“I honestly don’t feel prepared,” Gosselin said. “The pandemic hit when we were in our second year. Now that we’re in our fourth year, there are certain elements of the profession that I still wish I knew because I think that if there wasn’t a pandemic, I would probably be a little bit better off than I am right now.” 

‘Nurses eat their young’

Parkinson explained the stress of feeling behind in learning is only exacerbated by the fact that hospitals often aren’t welcoming environments for inexperienced nurses. 

“There’s this whole other label on us – we’re ‘the COVID babies’ and we’re disadvantaged,” Parkinson said. “The saying that ‘nurses eat their young’ – we get told that all the time.”

While turnover is common among Canadian nurses – according to Statistics Canada, in the spring of 2021 there were an estimated 22,400 vacant registered and psychiatric nursing positions across the country – a high rate of turnover can be seen especially among young nurses. 

According to one study by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, close to 13 per cent of Ontario’s registered nurses between the ages of 26 and 35 indicated they were ‘very likely’ to leave the profession after the pandemic.

Roughly 13 per cent of Ontario registered nurses aged 26 to 35 say they are likely to leave the field after the pandemic.

Parkinson found hospital work environments differed depending on the age and experience of staff. 

According to Parkinson, some hospital units had noticeably higher rates of turnover than others.

Jana Delorme, a nurse and instructor with Algonquin College, noted there’s a certain pressure for young nurses to get hands-on and practical experience with patients right out of school, which leads many young nurses to work in specific hospital units.

“Working with junior staff can be nerve racking,” said Delorme, who graduated from nursing school in 2018. “It does allow you to experience more. I think if you worked with all senior nurses, you may not get to see as much as a nurse and take care of as many different things.”

	Photo of fourth year nursing students Carling Gosselin and Melanie Cairns at Winnipeg’s Université de Saint-Boniface. Photo by Daena Coleman.

Carling Gosselin and Melanie Cairns, two student Nurses at Winnipeg’s Université de Saint-Boniface looked to classmates for support. Photo by Daena Coleman.

Student nurses have been handling stress in different ways and for many, it was a matter of finding support in each other.

“I think it’s really important to talk to other nursing students because as much as leaning on your friends is good, no one will quite understand the awkward balance that we have as nursing students,” Parkinson said. “And usually when you open up those conversations, you realize – I know it’s cheesy to say – but that you’re not alone.”

Parkinson said she also looks for support from the student association’s ‘beating burnout’ club – a mental-health and self-care club that organizes student events.

Nursing students often go through their program as a cohort. In Cairns’ experience, long days at school cause nursing classes to become tight-knit. 

However, without the interaction of in-person classes, forming and maintaining connections with classmates wasn’t always easy or possible. “There’s definitely a lack of social support now compared to before.”

For Gosselin, it was difficult to lose even the small interactions with her classmates.

“I never really realized how important those 10 minutes before class were, or those little 15-minute breaks that just gave me that chance to connect with everybody,” Gosselin said.

‘Have you forgotten about us?’

Many issues in nursing were around before COVID-19.

A pre-pandemic report from 2020 by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, reported 92.6 per cent of nurses were experiencing symptoms of burnout.

Likewise, per Statistics Canada, in April and May of 2019 nurses were already working between 5.8 to 6.6 hours of overtime per week. Still, many of Canada’s nursing issues have exacerbated over the course of the pandemic – nurses worked close to 10 overtime hours per week in April and May of 2020.

According to 2021 Statistics Canada data, 70 per cent of healthcare workers reported their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.

While some had been warning of this crisis long before the pandemic, Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said no one wanted to listen.

“The government was playing ostrich with their heads in the sand. They didn’t want to hear it – they didn’t want to acknowledge that the health human resource was building up into a crisis situation,” Silas said.

In the fall, the federation called on the federal government to fund greater workforce planning and provide additional support to hire, retain and recruit nurses. 

 “We’d written to the prime minister after the election, and we wrote to him last week. Today, we’re on social media saying ‘have you forgotten about us?’”

Silas also noted this isn’t the first time Canada has faced a nursing crisis. The federal government worked to tackle similar issues in the 1990s, and she hopes to see the same initiative taken today. Silas says she would like to see the return of government supported mentorship programs to help newly graduated nurses navigate their new careers.

“A lot of talk, but no action yet,” Silas said. “I’m hopeful that it will come to something.” 

The Raging Twenties reached out to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’s office Friday for comment on the federation’s demands. At the time of publication the Raging Twenties had not received a response.

For University of Ottawa student Parkinson, an end doesn’t seem in sight. 

“There’s definitely a huge system change that needs to happen,” Parkinson said during a Zoom interview. “I don’t really see that happening in my lifetime.” 

She noted that while the pandemic brought many of these issues to public attention – and in the process brought nurses plenty of praise – it has yet to transition into meaningful change.

“At the end of the day, we’re just people. And the reality is we’re not treated that well,” Parkinson said. “In the media they call us ‘a hero.’ But when it comes down to our paycheck, our benefits and our vacation, it doesn’t really reflect the public’s perception, which is really unfortunate.”

Supports for students: Mental health resources and crisis lines.

The trouble with the share button: How slacktivism disrupts real change

The trouble with the share button: How slacktivism disrupts real change

Photo illustration by Spencer Nafekh-Blanchette and Alyshia McCabe. Edited from image by iStock user Gerasimov174

Sam Adam-Johnston woke up one morning in June 2020, checked his Instagram and discovered he had been tagged in a growing online trend.

The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police a week prior had prompted protests across the world. But the anger fuelling people to take to the streets also spread digitally, as many began uploading images of a black square with the hashtag #blackoutfriday to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I believe I had been tagged by my sister or somebody very close to me,” Adam-Johnston, 22, recalled in a recent phone interview. “With everything going on, at the height of the protest as well as COVID, there was this whole idea of wanting to participate in something but being fearful for public health at the same time.”

Adam-Johnston decided to stay home and join the Instagram campaign, tagging a few close friends in the process and requesting they follow suit. Soon after, he received a message from a friend informing him of the harm his post could cause.

“They told me that it was much more productive to spread actual information, instead of posting a simple black screen,” Adam-Johnston recalled.

Sam Adam-Johnston scrolls through his Instagram feed (Photo credit: Sam Adam-Johnston)

“Initially, I thought posting it would be a very easy way to help out. But then I realized what posting that kind of content achieved … which was nothing, really.”

The realization prompted him to update his Instagram to warn people not to contribute to the #blackoutfriday challenge because it could interfere with algorithms providing actual resources, such as protest safety guides or required readings on the policing of Black lives.

Simply put, Adam-Johnston had been misled by a slacktivist campaign.

‘A project of reputation management’

Given social media’s ubiquitous presence in the lives of many young people, it has fast become the go-to place to highlight and build support online for a variety of causes. From racism and climate justice to Change.org petitions and the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, millions will simply click the “share” button or repeat a hashtag in hopes of affecting legitimate change and feeling good about themselves. But experts and advocates fear this may interfere with getting people to go beyond their keyboards and commit to fixing real-world problems.

Matthew Flisfeder, associate professor of rhetoric and communications at the University of Winnipeg and author of the new book Algorithmic Desire: Toward a New Structuralist Theory of Social Media, defined slacktivism as a form of social, political or cultural activism found across the internet. Instead of going out and making material change, people engaging with slacktivist campaigns will make posts on social media platforms expressing their desire to act on a particular issue they feel requires attention.

Speaking during a Zoom interview, Flisfeder was quick to emphasize the “slacking” in slacktivism indicates the action taking place is mere rhetoric, concerning itself more with the appearance of doing something rather than actually affecting social, cultural or political transformation.

“People tend to want to appear as though they are acting towards change without actually doing the work to make change possible,” Flisfeder said. “A lot of the actions people are doing on social media across the board is a project of reputation management. What we’re doing when we’re posting online, to a certain extent, is managing our reputation and the way we are seen by others.”

When asked how slacktivism operates within the confines of Instagram, Flisfeder said “as a mostly visual medium, Instagram slacktivism relies on visual representation, as opposed to the representation in language and rhetoric you find on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

Slacktivism blurs the line of creating real change

In early November, an Instagram page belonging to an organization called Plant A Tree Co. used the platform’s sticker feature to create a campaign that promised to plant a tree for every pet photo shared.

Soon after, the sticker had been reuploaded more than four million times. But did Plant A Tree Co. really have plans to plant more than four million trees? Clearly not – the organization claimed to have a partnership with a tree-planting organization called Trees for the Future, but Lindsay Cobb, a representative for Trees for the Future, was quick to deny any affiliation in an interview with CBC.

Additionally, Plant A Tree Co. stated on its website that to plant trees, it was selling necklaces, and one necklace would fund the planting of one tree. But in a questionable turn of events, the mention of the necklaces had been removed as soon as their sticker campaign gained traction on Instagram.

Nasha Choudhury, 27, works with Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City, a grassroots charity that seeks to engage people and organizations in sustainability efforts across Ottawa.

Choudhury said slacktivism blurs the line when it comes to creating real change.

“When you have groups that are out there who are posing as an actual charity when in fact they’re not, it just adds to the challenge of getting the engagement that you want.”

“In this virtual world that we live in, it’s really difficult for people to find the kinds of organizations that create the impact that they want to see,” Choudhury added. “There is just so much that people look at for a minute before moving onto the next thing.”

Ecology Ottawa’s Sana Badruddin, 30, said it feels hurtful to see slacktivist campaigns such as Plant A Tree Co.’s prosper over genuine charitable efforts, such as those of her organization.

“We have this extremely successful tree giveaway campaign within the city of Ottawa where we give out free trees to local residents who fill out a survey,” Badruddin said. “The whole point is to empower the citizens who get the trees and are tasked with planting [them].” Ecology Ottawa says it has distributed over 30,000 saplings across the city.

Volunteers with Ecology Ottawa catch some rays with their saplings during the organization’s tree giveaway campaign (Photo credit: Ecology Ottawa).

New approaches for spreading awareness

When it comes to slacktivism campaigns, though, Badruddin said the content is basically posted into oblivion because any random person can share a picture.

“It does kind of delegitimize our work because actual organizations try really hard to make sure people’s efforts are recognized when they take part in something,” Badruddin said. She entertained the idea that slacktivism might have some direct correlation with a lack of actual volunteering in Canada.

Although slacktivist campaigns continue to garner attention across various social media platforms, the question remains: Will the phenomenon ever be seen for what it is?

Badruddin is of the opinion that efforts to combat slacktivism must take place in the physical realm as opposed to the digital one, saying that “fighting social media with more social media is really weird. Ecology Ottawa is, at its core, a face-to-face organization … we use social media as a tool to create action and awareness, but you have to go about it in an intelligent way.”

Asked about his new approach to slacktivism, Adam-Johnston explained his rule of thumb when reposting content online.

“I try to stick to local issues that directly affect the people surrounding me,” he said. “When you can relate to the issue directly, because you grew up in the area or you know people impacted by it, spreading awareness feels much more validating.”

‘Wildly disappointing’: Activists pan Ontario’s period poverty program

‘Wildly disappointing’: Activists pan Ontario’s period poverty program

A partnership between the Ontario government and Shoppers Drug Mart to supply Ontario schools with free menstrual products has sparked controversy among period equity organizations. Photo by Lilian Fridfinnson.

When the Ontario government announced its partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to provide free menstrual products to schools across the province in early October, organizations who have spent years working to address period poverty claimed victory.

“It was a huge win,” said Tait Gamble, lead volunteer with The Period Purse, a Toronto-based organization working to ensure people who menstruate have safe, healthy and dignified periods by providing access to free menstrual products. 

But the triumph was short-lived. Upon taking a closer look at the details of the plan, its limited and exclusionary nature became apparent.  

On its surface, Ontario’s plan to provide menstrual products in schools looks like a meaningful step to address period poverty. But period equity organizations say the program fails to appreciate the true extent of period poverty and excludes vulnerable populations. 

“This program was designed to not actually meet the need,” said Meghan White, co-founder and executive director of Ottawa-based Period Packs. “There’s simply not enough product being offered.”

Boxes of period products in paper bags
Period Packs provides donated menstrual products to over 30 organizations in Ottawa, including women’s centres, food banks, shelters and high schools, to work toward universal access to period products. Photo provided by Meghan White. 

According to White, the 18 million pads donated over three years will only equate to six pads per menstruator per year and the 1,200 dispensers promised means roughly one for every four schools. 

The long-term viability of the deal raises alarm bells for White, as the partnership does not require any financial commitment by the province.  

“The partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart is very peculiar. Those are all donated products. They’ve come at no expense to the province, although the way they’ve explained it, you wouldn’t know that,” she said.  

Veronica Brown, founder of Moon Time Sisters’ Ontario chapter, which supplies menstrual products to northern communities in Quebec, Nunavut and Ontario, shared in this skepticism. 

“Although it’s a start, it is a private/public corporation partnership … there’s obviously a money trail going somewhere that is not transparent,” Brown said. 

Another pressing concern for period equity organizations is the province’s exclusion of First Nations schools. 

“I read the article and I was like ‘Wow! OK, this is great, but is it including Indigenous communities?,’” Brown said. “Is this going to on-reserve high schools? No, it’s not.”

“Ninety-eight per cent of our communities are fly-in. The focus is on those without access to stores and products,” Brown said. “It’s really just one store called Northmart … they really drive the prices cause there’s no competition.”

“It’s big companies profiting off a bodily function”

This monopoly on period products in northern communities means prices for these necessities are often more than double the cost of menstrual products in urban communities —illustrating a very serious gap in equitable access. 

“A box of tampons can range from $16 to $45, leaving people to choose between these products or food security,” Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa said in October in Queen’s Park after the government announced its plan. 

Mamakwa, a New Democrat MPP, has been outspoken about his disproval toward the deal between the Ontario government and Shoppers Drug Mart for dividing provincial and First Nations schools. 

“Why is this government discriminating against First Nations schools?,” he asked.

The exclusion of Indigenous youth from this plan speaks to a wider issue of inequity and the long-standing conflict among various levels of government regarding who is responsible for funding First Nations community services. 

“This is for the federal government to speak to, as First Nation schools fall under their jurisdiction,” said Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “First Nation schools are not under the purview of the Ministry of Education.” 

But Davenport MPP Marit Stiles, also a New Democrat, said access to menstrual supplies “should not be a jurisdictional game.”

 “Just pony up and cover the cost of it. It’s a very simple thing and it has very immediate impacts on children and youth’s access to education.”

“If you get your period and can’t afford period supplies, you’re probably not going to school.”

Stiles first called for free menstrual products to be made available in school washrooms in 2019 but was met with a lack of urgency toward the issue of period poverty, which was disappointing given the prevalence and impacts of this issue.

Data from UNICEF and Plan International Canada. Visual by Lilian Fridfinnson.

Following backlash to the provincial program’s exclusion of First Nations schools, Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu issued a statement and tweet last month suggesting Fist Nations schools across Canada can expect free menstrual products “in the coming weeks.”

Despite this encouraging pledge, no further information about precisely when First Nations students can expect these supplies has been released, nor has information about whether Inuit and Métis communities will be included in the plan. 

Where government lagged, non-profit organizations led

Meeting immediate community needs is a “top priority” for Period Packs, White says.

“We service about 450 people a month in the Ottawa area by providing them with enough menstrual products to manage their cycle safely and with dignity,” she said. 

Two Period Packs volunteers pose for a photo with packs of menstrual products that will be distributed to people in Ottawa experiencing period poverty. Photo provided by Meghan White.

Despite Period Packs’ advocacy for period equity and work toward policy reform, the organization was insulted by the province’s plan to provide menstrual products in schools due to a lack of consultation with grassroots organizations who have been tackling period poverty for years. 

“We were all really taken aback,” White said. “Nobody working in this sphere was brought into the conversation. That’s really reflected in how ineffective this program is bound to be.”  

“They looked at some reports and came up with high-level answers to a complex, intricate, serious community issue and didn’t take the reality or peoples’ lived experience into account, which was wildly disappointing.”

This “lived experience,” for many individuals facing period poverty, looks like finding alternate ways to manage one’s cycle, particularly in situations where budgetary sacrifices are necessary to afford menstrual products.

“I’ve heard of people using sponges or rags,” Gamble said. “If you’re facing homelessness or financial insecurity and you’re forced to make a choice between food or period products, period products come second.”

Tait Gamble has worked volunteered with Period Purse since 2017. She runs menstrual product collection drives and facilitates in-school period education programs to alleviate period stigma and work toward period equity. Photo by Tim Fraser. Photo provided by Tait Gamble. 

For McGill University medical students Jiayin Huang and Owen Dan Luo, period poverty is much more than not being able to afford tampons. Lack of access to hygienic products is a health risk. 

“We’ve seen examples of patients utilizing dirty fabrics … this increases risk for a series of infections,” Dan Luo said. 

“If people start using alternative products that are less sanitary, there is an increase in urinary tract infections, as well as bacterial vaginosis,” Huang added. 

Another practice associated with period poverty involves using a tampon for longer than it’s intended, which can cause a deadly infection called toxic shock syndrome

 “There has been some documentation of individuals with period poverty experiencing toxic shock syndrome,” Dan Luo said.

Despite the serious physical health implications of period poverty, this type of marginalization also has mental health impacts. 

“There’s quite a bit of research that demonstrates people experiencing period poverty are more likely to have signs of clinical depression and clinical anxiety,” Dan Luo said. “A lot of it comes down to stigma, and we don’t do a great job of addressing it.”

Period stigma is pervasive, particularly among school-aged menstruators, according to Stiles. 

“There’s a lot of shame,” she said. “It has a big impact on participation of youth and children in schools.”

Stigma and shame associated with menstruation will likely not be mitigated by the current program, as the partnership only involves supplying products to high schools, Gamble said. 

“Most people get their period between 11 and 13, so only having them in high schools … it’s not going to be sufficient,” she said. 

Brown – who has spoken against the provincial government and this narrow attempt at period equity – shares the dissatisfaction. 

“It’s just not enough, so they don’t get a pat on the back.”

Are trendy thrifters a cause for concern or the future of fashion?

Are trendy thrifters a cause for concern or the future of fashion?

Kenzia Loucks, 17, stands in front of the Instagram wall that features the Mission Thrift Store in Orleans’s trendiest items. Loucks manages the Instagram account and social media for the Orleans store. Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

When Taniel Campbell, 21, needs to decompress or find a bit of time for herself, she can be found getting lost among the aisles of clothes thrifting at the South Keys’ Value Village.

Campbell, a Carleton University student, discovered her love for thrifting two years ago after seeing curated thrift-store clothing was trending among Instagram influencers. Since moving to Ottawa this past May, she has become hooked on the fun.

According to the thredUP 2021 Resale Report, 33 million Americans bought second-hand for the first time in 2020 and 53 per cent of millennials and Gen Z shoppers said they expect to spend more on second-hand clothing within the next five years. The online second-hand retailer was launched in the United States in 2009 and since 2017 has released annual reports that track retail and consumer data.

Thrift Stores like Value Village and Mission Thrift Store have gained popularity as thrifting has become trendy among Gen Z and millennials concerned about shopping more environmentally sustainably on a budget. Yet, as thrifting becomes trendier, there is a debate among both shoppers and thrift shop managers over the impact this trend will have on low-income communities who rely on their local thrift store.

When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” topped the Billboard charts in 2012, stealing your “grandpa’s style” suddenly became a popular trend with millennials, with the National Association of Resale Professionals reporting a spike in sales within the resale industry.

“You had to go to the thrift store and find some sort of crazy looking sweater to kind of pull off that look, and I just remember going with that goal, and finding a bunch of really awesome pieces that I still have a couple today,” Amy Benzie, 22, said. She recalls getting into thrifting when she was in grade nine in 2014, back when grandpa sweaters were a trending style with her peers.

The quality of clothing found at thrift stores has kept Benzie, a former graphic designer based in Lethbridge, Alta., thrifting for the last seven years.

“I find that it’s just better quality and cooler designs than what’s in stores. You can find some real hidden gems that no one else has and [it’s] better for the planet,” she said.

Campbell enjoys thrift shopping for the price value as well as the quality of clothing, which she finds lasts longer than anything else she could find in a regular store.

Racking up the prices and the problems

According to thredUP’s report, second-hand fashion is expected to double fast fashion by the year 2030. Yet, this boom in second-hand fashion is worrying some experts about the affect it might have on low-income communities.

An article written by the Berkeley Economic Review found that, “the rising popularity of thrifting among more wealthy consumers,” such as younger generations or those living in more affluent communities, “reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities.”

Campbell, who is originally from Jamaica, thinks there might still be a taboo surrounding thrifting in some communities of colour, mentioning that she does not tell her mom that she thrifts and none of her friends who are people of colour are thrifters.

“It’s coming out of a poverty mindset,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, why would I go back there?’ Because this thing is something that people with nothing… that’s what they do. So why are you doing that?”

Although Benzie understands that the gentrification of thrift stores is keeping clothing out of landfills by fast fashion shoppers, she worries about the consequences.

“Obviously, it’s taken a huge boom, like people with carts full of clothes, and it’s just kind of wasteful at some point, in my opinion,” she said. “But at what point are we racking up the prices, because people that don’t necessarily need to be getting cheaper clothes are thrifting.”

Benzie has noticed rising prices at Value Village. “With the boom in Tik Tok thrift shopping, everyone wants to do it. Value Village has increased their prices incredibly,” she said, preferring to shop more at Mission Thrift Store.

a young woman stands in front of a rack of beautiful thrifted clothes
Curating second-hand clothes is part of how Jessica Vaillancourt, owner of Bee You Creative Styles is working to change how people, particularly younger people see thrift shops and make them more excited to participate in circular fashion. Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

Jessica Vaillancourt, 36, is the owner of Bee You Creative Styles, a thrift store located in Carp, Ont. Vaillancourt sources 70 per cent of her inventory through consignment with existing clientele and the other 30 per cent through thrift stores like Value Village. In the last year, she has noticed a two to three times price increase, as well as changes to their retail strategy.

“The fact that they’ve taken away any of their regular sales, the fact that they have a rewards program that really isn’t a rewards program. Like, I could go on,” she said. “They’ve taken out all the change rooms. Obviously, that’s not necessary, but I feel they’re making more money that way.”

John Garfield Knight Jr., manager of the Mission Thrift Store in Orleans, Ont., said their store has recently dropped the prices on their clothing by five per cent.

“We are a thrift store, we are a non-profit, and the money we do generate goes elsewhere, Garfield Knight Jr. said. “But the same token, we don’t want to price ourselves to a point where only certain people can come, we want everybody.”

Despite these concerns, many thrift stores are welcoming younger shoppers with hopes of changing their perspectives on thrifting and second-hand clothes.

Watch as store manager, John Garfield Knight Jr., takes reporter Joy SpearChief-Morris behind the scenes at the Orleans store to see how all donations are processed from door bell to the sale floor. Filmed and produced by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

‘It’s no longer where everything is just thrown together all willy-nilly’

Since reopening after the provincial COVID-19 lockdowns, the Orleans Mission Thrift Store has been trying to engage with its new younger clientele.

Kenzia Loucks, 17, is a part-time staff and avid thrifter at the Orleans store but began as a volunteer the last two summers. Loucks started an Instagram account for the store to target younger shoppers on social media. She said she wanted to “show more of a fun side to the store.”

The Orleans store’s Instagram account currently has 105 followers, 60 per cent of which are females between the ages of 18 and 39.

Loucks has created an Instagram wall to display items she thinks will attract an audience online. “I’ll do clothes ensembles. Recently I’ve gotten into recreating celebrity photos, which has been fun,” Loucks said.

In Carp, Vaillancourt is also trying to change people’s perspectives on second-hand clothing through the way she curates her shop.

To walk up the stairs into Bee You Creative Styles is to walk into a thrift lover’s dream. Each room is carefully arranged to reflect the diversity of Vaillancourt’s shoppers. It aims to offer a little something for everyone, mixing vintage and designer finds with locally made items, books on sustainable fashion and those bang for your buck items.

“I think in this setting where it’s all second-hand, and from all different eras and styles, it’s an opportunity to get people excited about buying second-hand, and it’s no longer where everything is just thrown together all willy-nilly at the thrift store,” Vaillancourt said.

Garfield Knight Jr. is excited about how many younger people are coming to the store as both shoppers and resellers and believes the new trendiness of thrifting is benefitting the local community overall.

“Our mission here is to make money to better the world, and if I make $5 and a young person walks in here, who knows more about it and makes $25, my hope is they take that $25 and they buy other thrifting stuff,” he said. “So just continuously keeps more and more stuff out of the landfill.”

The focus of Vaillancourt’s business is full circle. Clothing she does not manage to sell, she donates to Savvy Seconds, a charity owned by Vera Jones in Kilburn, Ont. Savvy Seconds gives away clothing to those in need, including people escaping situations domestic violence, suffering from economic stresses or from disasters like tornadoes or fires.

photo of Kamal Ismail
Kamal Ismail, 21, began thrift shopping as a child with his mom. Now Ismail is still thrifting and frequently donates to Value Village.
Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

Shopping at thrift stores out of necessity as a child with his mother is what first made Kamal Ismail, 21, a thrift shopper.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so, we would do a lot of shopping at places like Value Village,” said Ismail, who is originally from Oshawa, Ont. but lives and attends university in Toronto. “I found a lot of good things, like pretty expensive things, that were cheap.”

Ismail, who got his girlfriend into thrift shopping, was not surprised by the new trendiness of thrifting but has noticed that the activity has become a luxury for some younger shoppers. He wants these shoppers to be respectful of thrift stores and also encourages donating and keeping thrifting full circle.

“You never know what will catch someone’s eye.”

a woman tags clothes on a rack
a room filled with beautiful thrifted clothes, a sign labeled "vintage coats" hangs on the front rack
a man standing beside a green sign by Mission Thrift Store that reads "Join Our Mission!"
a rack of womens' clothes at mission thrift store
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