ADHD and depression: what's the connection? (2023)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD involves inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity or a combination of these. The difficulties involved can lead to stress, which can lead to depression.

People usually receive a diagnosis ofADHDin childhood, but sometimes a doctor doesn't diagnose it until adulthood.

ADHD impairs a person's attention span and can lead to hyperactivity and impulsive actions. The person may find it difficult to concentrate at work or school. This can lead to additional complications such as low performance, relationship difficulties and social ostracism.

Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks and acts. It can produce strong feelings of sadness, loneliness and disinterest in life's activities.

People with ADHD may be more likely to develop it than othersDepressionEAnguish. One of the reasons it's important to seek treatment for ADHD is that treatment can help reduce your risk of complications like depression.

ADHD and Depression Links

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People with ADHD may be more likely than others to experience a different type of fear or anxiety.Mental healthcondition like depression.

People with ADHD are at higher risk for depressionto emphasizecreates and the challenges it faces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite numbers that suggest this.5 percentof children in the United States have ADHD, but add that the number could be higher. About 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point.

A study published in 2015 found that among 135 children in Shanghai, China, diagnosed with ADHD42 percentalso had an anxiety disorder and 33 percent had a depressive disorder. The researchers note that other studies have put the number between 12 and 50 percent for depression and 13 to 51 percent for anxiety.

According toAnxiety and Depression Association of America, depression is common in adults with ADHD. The association assumes that about half of all children with ADHD will also experience symptoms in adulthood, and half of all adults with ADHD will also suffer from an anxiety disorder.


Depression and ADHD may share some common symptoms, but for different reasons. Both can be accompanied by difficulties concentrating or loss of motivation.

A person with ADHD who has symptoms of inattentiveness seems to lack motivation, as they have difficulty concentrating and paying attention to details. A person with depression cannot complete a task because they feel there is no purpose.

(Video) The ADHD and Depression Connection

A person with ADHD may also have trouble starting projects or keeping up with work or study.

They may find it difficult to get organized, so they lose track of what they're supposed to be doing or leave a project unfinished because they tune out, don't listen, or don't learn the material.

A person with depression may or may not be able to concentrate due to distraction.fatigue.

Sleep disturbances, mood swings and irritability areproperties of bothADHD and depression.

Self-harm, suicidal thoughts and ADHD

Aanalysisof studies published in 2014 found that people with ADHD and depression self-harm or attempt or have suicidal thoughts.

The authors cite previous findings showing an association between ADHD and attempted and completed suicide in male adolescents and young adults.suicidal behaviorand suicidal ideation in adolescent girls.

One researcher found that girls with ADHD and major depression were more likely to have suicidal thoughts than girls with just major depression.

The review also found that there may be a link between suicidal thoughts and the use of some ADHD medications. However, more research is needed to confirm this.

suicide prevention

If you know someone who is in imminent danger of harming themselves, committing suicide, or hurting someone else:

  • Ask the tough question, "Are you considering suicide?"
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number or text 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove weapons, medication, or other potentially dangerous items.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, a prevention hotline can help. OCrisis and Suicide Lifeline 988can be reached 24 hours a day on 988. During a crisis, people with hearing impairments can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 and then 988.

Click here for more links and local resources.

Medication for ADHD and depression

The medications that people take for ADHD can have side effects.

(Video) Anxiety, Depression, ADHD and What I Would Tell #MyYoungerSelf | McKenna Hallem

Medications can make symptoms of depression worse or cause symptoms that resemble depression. This can also make it difficult to diagnose depression with ADHD.

This can make it difficult to identify and properly treat both conditions. However, ADHD is usually a lifelong disorder whereas depression can come and go.

Anyone who thinks ADHD medication may be causing depressive symptoms should seek medical advice.

ADHD and depression in children

ADHD can be challenging for children who are still developing emotionally, mentally and physically, in part because they may not understand what's going on.

Problems with behavior and self-esteem can lead to depression. Unusual behavior can lead to bullying and isolation.

Signs of depression in children with ADHD include:

  • feeling very low
  • Losing interest in favorite activities or withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • not getting bad grades or homework
  • not attending school
  • feeling hopeless, helpless, or suicidal

Depression can cause an increase in ADHD-related behaviors.

A child may start:

  • live more
  • be particularly inattentive
  • become extremely overwhelmed and disorganized

girls with ADHDoften showdifferent symptoms from boys. They are more likely to have trouble concentrating and are less likely to show signs of hyperactivity.

A girl with ADHD and depression may isolate herself instead of taking action.

Learn more about how ADHD affects girlsin our dedicated article here.

ADHD symptoms andbipolar disordercan also overlap.

Although not very common, some children diagnosed with ADHD may actually have bipolar disorder. Depending on the type of bipolar disorder, mood swings can lead to periods of depression and periods of euphoria and hyperactivity.

Older children may want to stop taking their medications or start self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. These can lead to further complications.

ADHD and depression in adults

(Video) ADHD & Depression

Signs of depression in adults with ADHD include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and staying focused
  • excessive attention to an activity
  • disorganization and forgetfulness
  • impulsivity
  • emotional difficulties, including an inability to handle emotions such as anger or frustration
  • hyperactivity or restlessness

However, these can also be signs of ADHD without depression, so it can be difficult to tell if a person with ADHD has depression.

Accordinglya questionnaire, Major depression affects 18.6% of people with ADHD, compared to 7.8% of people without ADHD.

Signs of depression in adults include:

  • a noticeable change in appetite or sleep patterns
  • a loss of interest and pleasure in activities they used to enjoy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness or guilt
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • physical symptoms likeHeadacheor abdominal pain

To diagnose

ADHD can be difficult to diagnose because no medical, physical or genetic tests can detect it. Instead, doctors ask questions and gather information.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) provides guidelines for diagnosing ADHD.

These guidelines focus on patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

In childhood, diagnosis involves documenting the child's behavior with the involvement of parents, teachers, other school staff, and mental health specialists.

For an ADHD diagnosis, a child must demonstrate at least six specific behaviors by age 12, according to DSM-5 criteria.

For adults, the assessment includes a detailed account of the person's medical and behavioral history. Adults must meet five or more of the DSM-5 criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.

ADHD and depression treatment

A doctor can prescribe medication and counseling for ADHD and ADHD with depression.

For kidsat the age of 6 yearsand for ADHD, researchers recommend behavioral therapy and medication. For children under 5, behavioral therapy should be the first line of treatment.

(Video) ADHD and Depression: What is the Difference?


A doctor may prescribe:

  • antidepressantsto treat depression, if present
  • stimulants likeAdderalland Ritalin to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and allow the person to focus better at school and work

Individuals can respond differently to medications, so they may need to try several combinations before finding the right one.

support a child

Parents and caregivers of children with ADHD should monitor behavior changes and look for signs of depression or another behavior or mood disorder.

There are several ways to support:

Communication with the child's class teacherallows parents and caregivers to track a child's progress and behavior in the classroom. The teacher and other educational leaders can also suggest ways in which parents can help the child learn.

structure and routinecan help a child develop organization and time management skills. Caregivers, including teachers and parents, can work with the child to create and follow a schedule and set goals.

communication with the childabout how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives will help them feel that they are not alone. It can also help parents and caregivers keep track of their child's concerns and spot early signs of depression.

Family or individual serviceit can provide a space for children and their families to express feelings and find new solutions to challenges.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)can help individuals learn how to manage their mood and stress levels. Emotional stress can lead to increased anxiety and depression.

A healthy lifestyle can help reduce symptoms. This includes a nutritious diet, adequate sleep and exercise.


ADHD and depression can sometimes coexist.

However, proper diagnosis and treatment can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of depression.


What do ADHD and depression have in common? ›

Depression and ADHD can have some common symptoms but for different reasons. Both can involve difficulty concentrating or a loss of motivation. A person with ADHD who has inattentive symptoms may seem to lack motivation, as they find it hard to focus and pay attention to details.

What does ADHD and depression feel like? ›

Both disorders bring mood problems, forgetfulness, and inability to focus, but there are slight differences. Emotions: ADHD moods are transient, precipitated by a setback. Depressive moods are pervasive & chronic. Motivation: Individuals with ADHD are overwhelmed by deciding what to do first.

Do ADHD meds help with depression? ›

Can ADHD stimulant medications like Adderall help with symptoms of depression and anxiety? It depends. Stimulant medications aren't used on their own for treating depression. But they are sometimes used as an add-on treatment for depression to boost an antidepressant that's not working well.

What meds are best for ADHD and depression? ›

Types of Antidepressants for Adult ADHD
  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like desipramine (Norpramin) and imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Aug 19, 2021

What comes first ADHD or depression? ›

Typically, in these situations ADHD symptoms appear first and the depression comes later. These negative reactions are common in individuals with ADHD and some experts claim that up to 70 percent of those with ADHD will be treated for depression at some point in their lives.

Does depression make ADHD worse? ›

Major depression (MD) often exacerbates the symptoms and dysfunctions of ADHD. Patients who have ADHD and who later develop MD may present with more severe dysfunctions than those who have MD alone; this may also worsen treatment outcome.

Does ADHD count as a disability? ›

Yes. Whether you view attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as neurological — affecting how the brain concentrates or thinks — or consider ADHD as a disability that impacts working, there is no question that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers individuals with ADHD.

Does Adderall fix depression? ›

Adderall in general is not used to treat depression. It has been found to be effective for treating kids and adults with ADHD. A physician who is trained to diagnose, treat and prevent psychiatric disorders.

Which stimulant is best for depression? ›

The stimulants most commonly used for treatment-resistant depression include:
  • Lamictal/Lamotrigine. Lamotrigine (also known as the brand name Lamictal) is an anticonvulsant medication used to treat epilepsy. ...
  • Ritalin. ...
  • Adderall. ...
  • The Final Word on Stimulants for Treatment-Resistant Depression.

How to help someone with ADHD and depression? ›

ADHD and/or depression are typically treated with medication and talk therapy. ⁸ Psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and psychoeducation can introduce coping skills for symptoms, help build self-esteem, and teach a person to reframe negative thoughts and interrupt destructive behaviors.

Do people with ADHD experience depression differently? ›

For some people, depression and ADHD just happen to coexist, but for others, depression is a result of ADHD, with low self-esteem and a poor self-image caused by ongoing feelings of being overwhelmed by life due to ADHD symptoms.

What is the burnout cycle in ADHD? ›

ADHD burnout is often something a little deeper. It refers to the cycle of overcommitting and overextending that leads to fatigue in people with ADHD. It involves taking on too many tasks and commitments, and then the subsequent exhaustion that happens when we're unable to fulfill all of our obligations.

How does having ADHD make you feel? ›

Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic to mood swings and outbursts of anger.

What are the emotional symptoms of ADHD? ›

People who have ADHD frequently experience emotions so deeply that they become overwhelmed or “flooded.” They may feel joy, anger, pain, or confusion in a given situation—and the intensity may precede impulsive behaviors they regret later.


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