Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on
October 7, 2021
Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

ADHD and depression can go hand-in-hand. Doctors sometimes call them comorbid or coexisting conditions. Meaning you can have both ADHD and depression at the same time.

ADHD is a brain disorder that makes it hard to focus, while depression an illness that affects your emotions negatively.   

Children and adults who have ADHD depression might have trouble finishing tasks, sitting still, and finding hope and optimism. They might not be experts at keeping track of appointments or details either. Depression is more than just an occasional case of the blues.

It’s the deep sadness and despair you feel every day for at least 2 weeks at a time! It can make it tough to work out, go to school, or sleep. If you don’t get treatment for your ADHD as well as your depression, then you could end up feeling even worse.

Is there a link between ADHD and depression?

ADHD and depression can indeed go hand-in-hand. ADHD occurs in about 30 percent of cases, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

According to NIMH, “Depression is one of the most common comorbid conditions with ADHD.” The symptoms you have for ADHD may be mistaken as signs that you are depressed.

ADHD can be a cause for depression as well, since ADHD sufferers may have to deal with issues such as social isolation and low self-esteem which could lead to feelings of despair.

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Children are usually first diagnosed at school age due to some disturbance or signals in the classroom environment. These point to symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.

3 Types of ADHD and Their Symptoms

Not everyone with ADHD has the same symptoms, everyone is unique. People with ADHD can present a different way. People say that there are three types of ADHD, however, that is not up-to-date to science.

As adults without ADHD evolve through the years so do those with a diagnosis. Today scientists refer to the differences within ADHD as a presentation. This is because they recognized that ADHD can evolve to look different as we grow older. 

Inattentive ADHD 

Children that don’t present with a lot of hyperactive or impulsive symptoms can still have ADHD.  If at least six of the following symptoms are present for more than six months, you or your child might have ADHD with an inattentive presentation.

  • Often has little attention to detail, makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities.
  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activity
  • Doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly, even without any obvious distraction
  • Doesn’t follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities. This means messy or disorganized spaces or work, poor time management, failing deadlines.
  • Avoids dislikes or is reluctant to engage in tasks that need sustained mental strain. 
  • Misplaces or is careless with working material
  • is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is regularly forgetful in daily activities. They might forget chores, running errands, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

This is usually the presentation or type of ADHD that we expect or imagine. The child has difficulty sitting still or blurts out the answers without asking.

There are six or more symptoms available for more than six months and these have a significant influence on your daily life or development. 

The following behaviors are hyperactivity symptoms:

  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in their seat.
  • Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate. Adolescents or adults may feel very restless.
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Often talks excessively

The following behaviors are signs of impulsivity.

  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed. They might complete people’s sentences. They might have difficulty waiting for their turn in a conversation.
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn (in line for example.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others. They might butt into conversations, games, or activities. They may start using other people’s things without asking or receiving permission. Adolescents and adults may intrude into or take over what others are doing.

Combined ADHD

Combined type ADHD is the presentation of ADHD in which enough symptoms of both ADHD presentations are available. 

ADHD is a disorder that can change over time. ADHD symptoms might look different in adults because ADHD affects their self-esteem and how they see themselves.

Often, ADHD children mature differently than you would expect them to be. If you were diagnosed as a child with hyperactive ADHD.

However, you don’t notice the same pattern anymore. It might be that it evolved in a more inattentive type of ADHD. 

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental illness that negatively impacts your mood. To be diagnosed with this medical illness you should show the following symptoms daily for more than two weeks.

You should suffer from how your mood has an impact on your daily life. When people talk about depression they usually refer to major depression, we will describe the symptoms below.

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

This is the most prevalent type of depression. It causes severe symptoms that interfere with your daily life, like work and relationships.

Depressive symptoms may include: 

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities.
  • Children or adults might experience strong unintentional weight loss or gain. They might feel a decrease or increase in appetite. For children, this might look like a failure to gain weight.
  • Psychomotor changes (agitation or retardation) are severe enough to be observable by others. 
  • Tiredness, fatigue, or low energy, or decreased efficiency with which routine tasks are completed.

They might feel a sense of worthlessness or excessive, inappropriate, or delusional guilt. 

Impaired ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions

Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts.

Can untreated ADHD cause depression?

One of the most common ADHD comorbidities is depression. That means that ADHD and depression can go together. Untreated ADHD and depression can lead to many negative outcomes. The rule is the earliest the diagnosis gets treated, the better the outcomes. 

The recommendation with comorbid diagnosis is to treat the illness that has the deepest impact on your life first.  If ADHD is impairing your quality of life then ADHD should be treated first. 

If you have ADHD and depression, a doctor can provide medical advice on the best treatment plan for you with both illnesses. This might include combining medication with therapy (and training for those close to you).

Is ADHD a depressive disorder?

ADHD is not a depressive disorder. Although they can occur together, they are not the same category of disorder. Depression is categorized under depressive disorders (and formerly under mood disorders). ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is classed as a neurodevelopmental issue

What does ADHD depression look like?

Many studies indicate that major depression has a prevalence of 9 – 38% of children with ADHD. Not only major depression is prevalent with these children. ADHD is also highly associated with 

Depression for people with ADHD can look like a demoralized person, someone who feels low, sad, or suffers from chronic unhappiness. Some might feel an inner pain or loss towards not living up to their full potential due to ADHD.

How to focus if you have ADHD and depression?

Keeping a positive mindset can help you to stay on track with your ADHD treatment plan. So try and avoid being too hard on yourself if things aren’t going perfectly at first – it takes time! 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder and ADHD can be tough to cope with on your own, so try talking to a friend or family member if you’re feeling down. A neuropsychologist or a professional trained in cognition can teach you tips and tricks.

They will adapt a treatment plan towards your needs. This way you don’t only manage your concentration better, you also work towards goals that are important to you.

An ADHD diagnosis does not mean an end of life as we know it! ADHD means having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This simply means that the person has trouble paying attention. They might have difficulty staying focused and have trouble controlling their impulses. 

How should I cope with ADHD and depression?

Find someone that understands what you’re going through and seek their help. ADHD can be tough to cope with on your own, so try talking to a friend or family member if you’re feeling down.

Making lifestyle changes by taking care of yourself, is a good step to reduce your depressive symptoms or your ADHD. You can relieve symptoms by leading a healthy life and using exercise regularly. 

If ADHD is impairing your quality of life then ADHD should be treated first. If you have ADHD and depression, a doctor can help determine the best treatment plan for you with both illnesses. This would mean treating ADHD symptoms as well as managing any resulting depression symptoms.

Can I take ADHD medication for depression?

What kind of medications to take for your ADHD or depression can only be advised by a doctor. Medication for your depression might depend on your diagnosis. 

The most common ADHD medications are stimulant medications like Ritalin or Adderall. These can help with attention span, impulse control, and hyperactivity. 

Non-stimulant meds include Strattera (atomoxetine). This is a non-stimulant ADHD medication that works on the norepinephrine system. There are other ADHD medications as well, but their names will vary by country and region.

People who have ADHD can experience depression too because of a lack of motivation or enjoyment in life. They may also struggle to make friends, which causes social isolation and loneliness.

Some light struggle from low self-esteem due to not obtaining their full potential. ADHD is a chronic condition so it will have to be managed throughout life. 

ADHD can also cause depression because of the stigma attached and self-esteem issues that develop as a result. Other reasons could also cause depression-like low motivation and not finishing their tasks which can lead to that.

They might feel like they’re not good enough or let people down. ADHD is many times a chronic condition so it will have to be managed throughout life.  

Adults with ADHD who also suffer from a mood disorder can be treated with antidepressant medication.

What supplements reduce ADHD and depression?

There are no ADHD supplements that can take the place of ADHD medications. There is some evidence for using omega-three fatty acids, vitamin D, and zinc to reduce ADHD symptoms.

Further, studies need to be done before any conclusions can be drawn about their effectiveness in reducing ADHD symptoms. 

These supplements can’t resolve your depression either. Medication is not a solution either. Still, some supplements are shown to help you relax or sleep a bit easier like valerian, melatonin or L-Theanine.Those effects might be just our cultural beliefs, about drinking a warm cup of tea or placebo effect. Still, you can give it a try.

Other supplements like St. John’s Wort, SAMe and Ginkgo Biloba have been used to help ADHD. The evidence for these supplements is not so strong either.

Diagnosis 

A diagnosis for ADHD and/or depression can only be given by a medical doctor or a mental health specialist. They are the only ones who can provide medical advice.

They will do this by using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Psychiatrists defined certain characteristics, the common symptoms and criteria to these diagnoses in this manual. 

For both ADHD and depression, it would be probable that your doctor will ask you questions about your mood or your behavior.

It might also be possible that they will ask to participate in some behavioral assessment. This might map better how you feel and which symptoms you are showing.

Treat ADHD

On top of medication recommended treatment would be to follow therapy. CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy can treat ADHD and depression by changing your thought pattern. 

This type of therapy can help you with your negative thought pattern and behavior modifications. It might also teach you some problem solving skills as well as coping strategies. CBT can have two components: 

  • Psychoeducation: this points out the facts about ADHD and depression. It also provides knowledge on how to deal with them.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT is a form of talk therapy. This is a way of looking at common symptoms of ADHD by acknowledging the problem, assessing it and finding positive ways to solve it.

Other options to help you are to get some family therapy or training for your teachers on how to handle your depression or your ADHD.

Concluding Thoughts

ADHD and depression can go hand-in-hand. ADHD is a chronic condition so it is important to focus on changing throughout life. Your ADHD and depression can get better with the right treatment.

ADHD is sometimes associated with depression by the consequences of your symptoms. 

With the right medication in combination with some talk therapy, you can learn the skills to handle your ADHD and your depression. If your mood is extremely dark, you need urgent help, or are experiencing active suicidal thoughts, call 911. You can also call the number 1-800-273-8255. 

Or take the opportunity to get the right consultation with a mental health specialist here.

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