ADHD and Depression: Connection, Risks, Treatment and More

June 23, 2021
ADHD And Depression


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression are highly prevalent. The experts refer to these conditions as co-existing or comorbid. However, individuals with ADHD are three times more prone to develop depression.

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Does this imply that ADHD triggers depression? This post will discuss the relationship between Depression and ADHD, the symptoms, and treatment options. Keep reading.


An Overview of ADHD and Depression

ADHD and depression are mental disorders, primarily affecting learning capabilities, memory, behavior, and cognition. ADHD is usually diagnosed at an early stage, while depression is diagnosed later, mainly in adulthood.

But in most cases, children with ADHD can recover from its signs and symptoms if treated. But symptoms of depression may last for a lifetime. According to the University of Chicago research findings, adults with ADHD are ten times more likely to suffer from depression at some point in their lives, unlike individuals without ADHD.


Does This Mean ADHD Lead to Depression?

Depression and ADHD can occur at the same time. Although these conditions coexist more commonly in children, adults with ADHD can also develop depression. That’s why health experts refer to these mental disorders as comorbidity or co-existing.

ADHD patients are more likely to experience depression. But the risk is greater for impulsive/ hyperactive types. Furthermore, most of these individuals develop suicidal behavior, not to mention that they experience extreme symptoms, unlike if they only had a single disorder. 

It’s therefore essential for individuals with ADHD to seek treatment since that will influence how depression unfolds. Keep in mind that ADHD and depression disorders are unique and feature independent diagnostic criteria in accordance with DSM-V.


Common Causes of ADHD


What Is ADHD?

ADHD is linked to various signs and symptoms, and it falls into three types:

Type One: Predominantly Inattentive

With this type of ADHD, you’ll have a hard time concentrating or paying attention. That leads to disorganized thought patterns and ideas. The worst part is that the victims get easily distracted.

Type Two: Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

This type of ADHD leads to restlessness. You may say things without thinking and lack the patience to remain calm in a chair or even wait for your turn between conversations.

Type Three: Combination of Type One and Two

This type of ADHD features both type one and type two symptoms.

Symptoms of ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD are less or more similar in both adults and children. The difference in activities and behaviors results from various factors, including age. Below are ADHD symptoms in adults:

  • Inability to multitask
  • Hot temper
  • Stress management problems
  • Poor planning
  • Restlessness
  • Finding it hard to complete tasks
  • Thoughtlessness
  • Low tolerance to frustration

Here are the symptoms of ADHD in children:

  • Failure to detect danger
  • Disrupted conversations
  • Short attention span
  • Increased careless mistakes
  • Switching from one activity to the next constantly
  • Unreasonable physical movements

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What Is Depression?

Clinical depression is a severe mental health condition and can take its toll on your daily life. Most people suffering from depression encounter recurrent incidences that could last for months and sometimes years if left untreated. Just like ADHD, depression comes with several symptoms and falls into six different types. 

What Are the 6 Types of Depression?

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Atypical Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Postpartum Depression (PPD)
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Depression Symptoms

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Difficult making decisions
  • Concentration issues
  • Eating disorder
  • Feeling hopelessness

Depression makes it hard for individuals to perform daily tasks, such as going to school or work. Sometimes such individuals cannot maintain their hygiene. Therefore, depression is a life-threatening condition and could lead to suicidal thoughts.


Common Depression Triggers


Understanding the Overlap between Depression and ADHD Symptoms

The two mental disorders can be diagnosed depending on their individual symptoms. However, some signs of ADHD are similar to depression symptoms. Some victims even develop both conditions, which lead to an array of health issues. For example, a comorbid case has symptoms such as boredom, which is an asymptomatic sign both in ADHD and depression. Other signs present in both conditions include restlessness, concentration problems, and irritability. Have a look at the table below:


Symptoms  Depression ADHD
Lack of concentration
Inability to feel happiness
Noticing unusual details


According to health experts, when depression and ADHD occur concurrently, the condition becomes severe, unlike in individuals suffering from one condition. A survey conducted on 49 children who have ADHD proved that depression symptoms were less or more similar among the general population. However, children with ADHD were more likely to develop depression symptoms than the general population.

Still, according to American Psychological Association research findings, ADHD comorbid symptoms lasted longer among individuals with different depressive disorders. The patients involved in the study had major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. The data and measurement used were based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-III-Revised (DSM-III-R).

The results showed that after removing ADHD symptoms in the patients, depressive disorder signs persisted, proving a co-occurrence of different types of depression and ADHD.

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Let’s now answer the most important question.


How Does ADHD Relate to Depression?

Living with ADHD is a struggle, especially for children, because they may later develop depression during their early adulthood. Several factors contributing to this correlation are explained below:

  • Changes in Brain Structure and Chemicals of ADHD Individuals

Experts claim that fluctuation in brain structure and chemicals of ADHD individuals increases the chances of developing depression during adulthood among children with ADHD.

The main chemicals present in ADHD that can lead to depression in children include norepinephrine and dopamine. In addition, brain structure changes in ADHD children also increase the likelihood of ADHD co-occurring with depression. Nevertheless, this theory needs more proof to support its claims.

  • Gender-Based

Research by the University of Chicago also claimed that boys have higher chances of developing ADHD disorder alone during their early stages. On the contrary, adult ADHD trends suggest that females are at a greater risk of developing co-existing depression and ADHD, unlike their male counterparts.

  • Maternal Mental Health Could Be the Cause

A mother’s mental health can trigger a coexistence of Depression and ADHD- that’s according to a JAMA Psychiatry research article. It claims that if a pregnant mother experiences serotonin impairment or depression during pregnancy, it increases the chances of giving birth to a child who might develop both ADHD and depression later in life.

While more research is needed to back up this claim, the hypothesis holds some weight, given that serotonin plays a major role in depression and ADHD comorbidity.

  • ADHD Type Matters

The University of Chicago in the same study also claimed that the specific types of ADHD have a more substantial probability of developing coexisting depression.  These types are inattentive and combined ADHD. Patients with either of these types are more likely to develop depression and ADHD. 

Although most causes of co-existing depression and ADHD are linked to childhood factors, children are not the only group of people that can develop these conditions. Adults, too, can suffer from a coexistence of the two disorders.

  • Internet Addiction as a Potential Cause

According to the Science Direct research article, internet addiction among adults who have ADHD leads to depression and ADHD coexistence. Furthermore, the article emphasizes that ADHD adults addicted to the internet develop comorbid mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety disorder, social phobia, and more.  

The research article further states that female students with co-existing ADHD and depression and addiction to the internet were more than male students. Essentially, comorbid ADHD and depression make life unbearable and come with more symptoms, unlike when one is suffering from one condition.

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Is It Depression or ADHD?

Since ADHD and depression symptoms overlap, it’s hard to differentiate between the two. In fact, some ADHD medications have side effects similar to depression, such as insomnia and loss of appetite. Although depression and ADHD affect concentration, motivation, and mood, even they are different.

  • Mood

Individuals with ADHD can experience temporal mood changes right from childhood. However, depression victims experience mood swings from teenage years or later in life. These mood swings can last for weeks and sometimes months.

  • Sleep

ADHD persons have a hard time falling asleep because of the hyperactive mind and failure to feel tired. However, an individual with depression feels excessively tired but can’t sleep due to negative thoughts. So depression patients may stay awake throughout the night or may oversleep.

  • Motivation

An individual with ADHD sometimes feels motivated, especially when they come across something they are passionate about. But a person with depression does not feel motivated even if they encounter something exciting to them. Everything to them is hard and unpleasant.



Diagnosis of ADHD is a challenge since no genetic, physical, or medical test can help detect it. So instead, health experts use information collected from patients to determine if they are suffering from a coexisting ADHD and depression

However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5) contains ADHD diagnosis guidelines. The guidelines are based on impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention.

In children, diagnosis entails monitoring a child’s behavior through teachers, school officials, parents, and mental health experts. Before any child is confirmed to be suffering from ADHD and depression, they must possess specific symptoms related to these conditions by 12 years of age according to DSM-5 criteria.

In adults, ADHD evaluation involves an in-depth review of an individual’s behavioral and medical history. In addition, an adult must show at least five or more symptoms of these disorders in line with DSM-5 criteria.


Complications Associated with ADHD


Dark Aspects of ADHD and Depression as a Comorbidity

Since ADHD and depression lead to abnormal behaviors and severe complications in many individuals, it’s essential to support loved ones suffering from the condition.

Below are high-risk complications linked to coexisting ADHD and depression:

  • Suicidal Behavior and Thoughts

Teenagers with ADHD are likely to develop suicidal thoughts. They may not try to commit suicide at the teenage stage, but the suicidal thoughts and behavior gradually grow in them. And eventually, they may make suicide attempts.

Children and teens with ADHD and depression are more impulsive than those with depression only. A report by the JAMA Psychiatry shows that girls with ADHD and depression aged 6-18 years are at higher risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts than their peers.

What Can You Do?

Act fast when you notice that your family member is having suicidal thoughts. For instance, you may see them trying to hurt themselves or engaging in activities that might harm them.

Here is what to do:

  • Contact local emergency
  • Keep a close watch on the patient
  • Safely hide any sharp objects and weapons
  • You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if the person is at a point of committing suicide
  • Book an appointment with the mental health professional to seek advice on a suitable treatment plan


Conditions with Symptoms Similar to Depression


  • Substance Abuse among Teens

Adolescents with ADHD are at risk of engaging in substance abuse to relieve stress. Many studies point out children affected by this comorbidity exhibit depression and anxiety symptoms together with ADHD. Therefore, they engage in substance abuse to get relief from stress.

Another research also states that young people suffering from this comorbidity tend to internalize the symptoms of depression and anxiety along with ADHD and indulge in substance abuse as a stress-releasing mechanism. A study confirms this theory by stating that substance abuse as a coping mechanism is predominantly more common with adolescents suffering from coexisting ADHD and depression.

You should closely monitor ADHD individuals and check for any behavioral changes. If you discover they are overusing substances, don’t scold the victims to avoid pushing them away. Also, try to build trust with the individuals so that they can easily open up to you. That way, you will figure out the best way to help them.

After gaining their trust, talk to a mental health expert and organize rehabilitative therapy for them. Furthermore, inform the substance abuse and mental health services administration about the incident for further help.

  • Social and Academic Dysfunctioning

Experts have found out that ADHD children and teens have acute anxiety and stress levels more than their non-ADHD age mates. Therefore, the affected kids may have problems focusing, concentrating, and attentively staying on one task. Also, they may distance themselves from others and have a poor social life. That way, they allow negative thoughts to flow through their minds.

  • Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes adverse effects when you eat gluten. The infection causes harm to your intestines, therefore, leading to diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, and gas.

Experts have conducted studies with controlled and uncontrolled trials and suggest a likelihood of comorbid ADHD leading to celiac disease in the affected population.

There are only eight studies that positively associate celiac disease with ADHD and depression. But the other trials portrayed inconsistent results. More research needs to be done to confirm these findings.

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ADHD and Depression Treatment

Mental experts use various treatment options in isolation or combination. Every drug class attracts some side effects after consumption. However, most of these effects reduce within the first four weeks of use.

The ADHD and depression medications include:

  • Stimulants

They are the most effective medication to treat ADHD. They include drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine. Stimulants work by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain. They improve focus and concentration while lowering impulsiveness and hyperactivity.

The fascinating thing about stimulants is that they lower the risk of developing depression if administered after a timely ADHD diagnosis. They also aid in the management of depressive symptoms in comorbid conditions.

  • Non-Stimulants

The most common ADHD non-stimulant medication is Strattera. Unlike the stimulants that increase dopamine levels in the brain, Strattera increases norepinephrine levels to ease ADHD and depression.

The drug acts longer than stimulants. Its effects go over 24 hours. It also has antidepressant properties that make it the best choice for patients with co-existing depression or anxiety. However, Strattera is not effective for the treatment of hyperactivity symptoms.

  • Antidepressants

The most common antidepressant medications are Celexa, Paxil, Prozac, Tofranil, and Pristiq. You can use these drugs to replace stimulant ADHD medications or combine them with other prescriptions.  

Antidepressants change neurotransmitters in the brain, which affects emotions and mood. The medication may cause harsh side effects. It is vital to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor before taking them.

Note: Use drugs only under the prescription and strict supervision of a certified physician. Any adverse effects should be promptly reported to the physician. 


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  • Psychotherapy Treatment

The most common psychotherapy treatment options are:

1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Cognitive-behavioral intervention is a psychotherapeutic intervention. It treats mental health problems and patients with traumatic. The main aim of the therapy is to pinpoint the many sources of mental health disorders by narrowing them down to the chain of stressors. After that, come up with the best solutions for each element. Your therapist helps you recognize your negative thought patterns and advice on the best solutions to the factors causing ADHD and depression.

2. Behavioral Therapy – It is a term that covers multiple therapies. The goal of them all is to treat the self-destructive behaviors established because of the comorbidity.

3. Talk Therapy – Talk therapy entails a direct conversation between the patient and therapist. The therapist takes time talking to you concerning your feelings, conditions and expects you to be very transparent when responding. He/she can then diagnose your illness and prescribe a suitable treatment plan for you.

4. Parent Behavior Management – According to the American Psychological Association study, parent behavior management is crucial in controlling ADHD comorbidity. It is effective in lowering the children’s disruptive behavior. Therefore, parents must positively reinforce proper child behaviors to minimize the chances of ADHD and depression.

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How to Support ADHD and Depression Victims?

Let’s look at how you can support someone with ADHD and Depression

Study up – It is easier to support ADHD and depression patients when you are well informed about the two conditions. You should start by studying your loved one/ friend/colleague’s behavior without being judgemental.

Learn to tolerate them – After understanding their behavior, it’s your responsibility to guide them and tolerate them without scolding them for things done, not done, or lost.

Learn to separate the person from their behavior – Individuals suffering from ADHD and depression can be a nuisance. You may get easily irritated if you cannot separate the individual from their condition. For example, instead of seeing them as irresponsible, always remember that it’s the ADHD or depression that’s causing them to lose focus.

Don’t do all their tasks – ADHD symptoms may cause you to always step in to help these individuals complete their tasks, protect them from harming themselves, and correcting every mess they create. Doing all this for them makes them feel inferior and can be pretty demoralizing. Instead, encourage them to finish up tasks and do things right.

Ease tension – In case of misunderstandings that are obviously inevitable, always try to smile about them to ease tension. That helps strengthen the bond between you and the victim.

Develop a daily routine – ADHD and depression patients are disorganized don’t mean they can’t follow a routine. An added structure can benefit them. Therefore, it’s crucial that you help them plan and try to stick to the plan.

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Key Takeaway

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that increases the chances of developing severe depression at a point in your life. It can be a challenge determining what exactly is affecting you or your child. However, various symptoms can make you know if you are suffering from ADHD and depression comorbidity.

Therefore, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed above, book an appointment with the mental health expert to get help. Luckily, with the various effective treatment options and therapies, you will get back to a healthy mental state.

Contact us at Mango Clinic for ADHD treatment or click the banner below to book your appointment.


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