ADHD and depression have distinct symptoms and treatments, but for many people, they form an intertwined pair. If you’re struggling to unravel this mental health puzzle, you’re not alone.
Adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are almost three times more likely to experience depression than adults without ADHD.
Studies have also found that 18.6% to 53.3% of individuals with ADHD also have depression.
What does this mean? People with co-existing ADHD and depression tend to be more significantly affected by their symptoms than those with either disorder alone.
It also means you can start to make progress and feel better with professional diagnosis, treatment, and support.
Our ADHD resource center for adults is a great place to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for ADHD.
This article will help you explore the link between ADHD and depression and learn about the options to treat and manage both together.
How Are ADHD and Depression Related?
For some people, ADHD and depression may just happen to co-occur. There are various causes and risk factors of depression that aren’t linked to ADHD, such as having a family history of depression or having a physical illness.
Nonetheless, this still raises an important question—Does ADHD cause depression?
In some cases, yes, ADHD may contribute to the development of depression. ADHD may increase your likelihood of experiencing depression in a few ways:
- Low self-esteem and negative self-image due to ADHD: People with ADHD are more likely to have a negative self-image and lower self-esteem.
- ADHD affecting work and school: ADHD symptoms can cause a person to struggle with school or work performance. This can make the individual feel like they’ve failed to meet expectations and goals. They may also face problems with their grades or find it harder to land and maintain a job.
- Symptoms causing difficulty in relationships: Maintaining healthy relationships may be challenging for some people with ADHD. ADHD symptoms can make it more difficult to communicate effectively, read body language, and fit in.
Ultimately, problems with work, school, and relationships can contribute to depression. This can be frustrating or distressing, especially for those with undiagnosed ADHD, consistently struggling with things that appear easy for others.
Research has found an interesting relationship between both disorders. The more severe the symptoms of ADHD, the more severe the symptoms of depression.
A possible explanation is this: People with ADHD rely more on avoidant coping. This behavior involves avoiding stressful and challenging tasks and problems instead of confronting or resolving them.
Finding the right treatment for ADHD and getting symptoms under control (alleviating their negative impact on self-esteem, career, and relationships) could lessen depression or reduce the likelihood of developing it.
Symptoms of ADHD and Depression
Some symptoms of adult ADHD and depression may overlap, making diagnosis tricky.
For instance, both may interfere with your ability to focus on work and tasks. Sleeping and eating problems may also be common in depression and ADHD, especially for those taking ADHD stimulant medications.
- Persistently feeling sad or “empty”
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- Recurring thoughts of suicide and death
Because some symptoms of ADHD may resemble depression, it’s essential to seek professional medical advice to get the correct diagnosis.
That said, it’s possible, and not uncommon, to have both ADHD and depression. So if you’ve been diagnosed with either, you can still seek medical advice and assessment for a possible diagnosis of the other.
ADHD and Depression in Adults
ADHD is a childhood-onset disorder, which means adults with ADHD have had it since they were children. Some adults diagnosed with ADHD as children no longer experience symptoms, while others struggle significantly.
Research suggests that adults with a childhood history of ADHD are more likely to develop depression than their non-ADHD peers.
But that’s not the entire picture.
The question is: Are adults with a childhood history of ADHD still at a higher risk of depression, even if they no longer experience significant symptoms of ADHD?
Interestingly, research suggests that a childhood history of ADHD may not have a significant association with the development of depression—in the case that a person no longer struggles with symptoms of ADHD as they approach adulthood.
So, treating ADHD and managing its symptoms as early as possible may help reduce the risk of depression in adults with a childhood history of ADHD.
Many adults with ADHD are still not diagnosed or receiving the treatment they need.
An ADHD diagnosis does not mean you will develop depression. But seeking proper treatment could be vital to lowering that risk – and learning to manage your ADHD will be an important step towards improving your mental health.
ADHD and Depression Treatment
A combination of medication and therapy may be the most effective option for treating co-existing ADHD and depression.
Your specialist may prescribe the following medications to treat ADHD:
- Stimulant medications: Stimulants are usually the first choice treatment for ADHD as they work for many people. These medications help increase the levels of specific neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain to regulate the brain’s activity.
- Non-stimulant medications: If stimulant medications fail to adequately manage symptoms or cause troublesome side effects, non-stimulant medications may be recommended.
Anti-depressants may also be simultaneously prescribed to help manage symptoms of depression. Some anti-depressants, such as bupropion, may also help to reduce symptoms of ADHD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one primary non-pharmacological treatment recommended for those with ADHD and depression.
This form of psychotherapy can help replace unhealthy thought patterns and coping mechanisms with healthier ones and improve problem-solving skills.
ADHD and Depression Can Co-Exist
If you’ve noticed symptoms of ADHD and depression, it’s best to seek medical advice, even if you already have a diagnosis for either.
It’s crucial that you receive appropriate treatment because ADHD medications are unlikely to help with depression, and anti-depressants alone cannot treat ADHD.
Meanwhile, psychotherapy can be structured to treat both ADHD and depression or either one alone.
Proper diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your symptoms and reduce their impact on your daily life. This will equip you to perform more effectively at work or school and bring you closer to achieving your personal goals.
If you’re interested in an ADHD self-screening test, check out ADDA’s ADHD test for adults. While this isn’t a diagnostic test, it may motivate you to talk to a professional – so you can take the right steps to feeling better.
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