ADHD and Depression
The two disorders often occur in tandem. Learn more about the link between them and how to find the best treatment options.
By: Sarah Fielding
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
May 13, 2023
Table of Contents
Before diving into the link between ADHD and depression, it’s essential to understand how each looks on its own entirely. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD and depression, their symptoms, and diagnosing them.
How are ADHD and depression related?
ADHD and depression can exist independently of each other, but the former frequently contributes to the presence of the latter. The relationship between ADHD and major depressive disorder is a close-knit one. About 18.6% of people live with both ADHD and depression.
ADHD and depression also have overlapping symptoms, including:
- An inability to concentrate on tasks
- Trouble sleeping
- Problems with eating regularly
A 2019 study from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that having ADHD, along with other neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, was associated with a higher likelihood of major depressive disorder (MDD) in adolescents. Experiencing irritability was a key factor here, with 42% of people who had ADHD and MDD reporting feelings of irritability. Investigating causes of irritability could help better understand its impact on adolescents developing MDD as a comorbidity to ADHD.
Frustration around not being adequately diagnosed with and treated for ADHD or even exhibiting symptoms of ADHD without realizing their cause could also contribute to the emergence of depression. ADHD can be difficult to diagnose, even with proper access and a lack of bias. However, in 2021, 5% (3.9 million) of people in the United States under the age of 19 had no health insurance, according to the United States Census Bureau. Even for young people with health insurance, the cost of and waiting lists to access mental and behavioral healthcare can prove to be devastating barriers. In the case of ADHD, a gender bias might also contribute to feelings of irritability and depression. Girls receive an ADHD diagnosis at a much lower rate than boys do. Researchers have found this issue might be partly due to how the genders typically express ADHD symptoms.
According to a 2019 study from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, many barriers have stood in the way of girls with ADHD being diagnosed and treated at the same rate as boys. For starters, girls have historically been much less likely to be included in research around the disorder. Girls also tend to present with fewer ADHD symptoms. In comparison to boys, girls typically show less hyperactive or impulsive signs and instead have more internal symptoms, such as an inability to concentrate. A lack of awareness around these symptoms stemming from ADHD and a lower likelihood of being diagnosed might lead girls to have lower self-esteem, think poorly of themselves, or give up on specific initiatives, leading to depression.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which a person has issues with attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. There are three types of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination of the two.
ADHD symptoms include:
- Being unable to pay attention to close details
- Issues focusing, following instructions, or organizing task
- Avoid tasks that require deep concentration
- Forget to do specific tasks
- Fidget or squirm when sitting
- In regular motion
- Struggle to keep quiet or wait their turn
There isn’t one specific way medical professionals diagnose ADHD. It can depend on what a parent relays and what a young person is willing to share, but overall, they will look at symptoms to determine if they have the qualifications as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). ADHD typically first presents in childhood.
What is depression?
Depression is a mental health disorder that can cause extreme sadness, impact a person’s physical health, and bring suicidal thoughts. According to the DSM-5, a person with depression has at least five of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood
- Intrusive thoughts about dying or committing suicide
- Feeling uninterested in activities they used to enjoy, such as sports or music
- Significant and unintentional weight loss or gain or change in appetite
- Sleep disturbance
- Experiencing guiltiness or worthlessness
- Trouble thinking, making decisions, or concentrating
- Psychomotor changes
A mental health professional can diagnose depression in young people by going over their symptoms.
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How do you treat ADHD and depression?
As with most mental and behavioral health conditions, treatments for ADHD and depression are focused on managing and mitigating symptoms rather than ultimately being rid of the disorder. Each disorder’s treatment can include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
ADHD medication represents another potential cause for depression occurring. If you’ve ever wondered if Adderall and other drugs used to treat ADHD cause depression, the answer is complicated. When a person takes Adderall, they experience a rush of dopamine. However, when it withdraws, this can cause a low and bring symptoms of depression to the forefront.
Antidepressants can be used at the same time as ADHD medications to reduce symptoms. Some options for depression, such as bupropion, might also help with ADHD symptoms.
A therapist can be a good guide for someone managing ADHD with comorbid depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a healthy space to identify disruptive habits and build coping mechanisms that help with both disorders. In sessions, therapists can help people manage both disorders without worsening the other one.
How Charlie Health Can Help
Charlie Health’s intensive outpatient program (IOP) can help diagnose and manage symptoms of ADHD and depression in young people. Learn more about the program and how it works here.