People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more prone to developing depression or a depressive disorder. It’s not because ADHD causes depression, but having ADHD puts a person at four times the risk of developing depression. People with hyperactive or impulsive types of ADHD are at even greater risk of developing depression and are at greater risk of suicide.
Several factors may contribute to the link between the two conditions, including the way ADHD changes a person’s emotions, behaviors, and overall functioning and how that impacts their mental health.
Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Signs of ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental health condition affecting children, but it may also continue into adulthood. Signs of ADHD are categorized as symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsiveness. They include:
- Experiencing difficulties focusing or concentrating
- Having troubles organizing and following through with tasks
- Losing items or misplacing everyday objects like keys, cellphone, wallet
- Forgetting tasks or responsibilities like paying bills, keeping appointments, or returning calls
- Getting up, fidgeting, or leaving meetings or lectures (inability to sit still)
- Excessive talking and/or interrupting others
Signs of Depression
Depression is more than feeling sad. People living with depression can experience a wide range of symptoms. Many of these symptoms overlap with ADHD. This may make it difficult for a person to identify which symptoms are associated with which condition.
Signs of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, and emotional numbness
- Hopelessness, pessimism, negative thinking patterns
- Irritability or quick to anger, restlessness
- Anxiety or agitation
- Feelings of guilt, helplessness, worthlessness
- Sleep changes (sleeping more or less than average)
- Appetite changes (eating more or less than average)
- Excessive tiredness or fatigue
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you once enjoyed
- Difficulties concentrating, remembering things, and making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide or death
- Body aches and pains, headaches, cramps, digestive issues with no physical cause
The Link Between ADHD and Depression
ADHD and depression are commonly co-occurring conditions. It’s said that the nature of childhood ADHD, with its effect on emotions, behaviors, and ways of learning and socializing, can lead to later experiences of depression.
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is an ongoing U.K.-based study that’s been collecting data since September 1990. Parent-reported ADHD symptoms in childhood and self-reported depressive symptoms from 2,950 people indicate a link between childhood ADHD and increased likelihood of depressive symptoms and clinical depression.
There are biological or chemical links between ADHD and depression, too. It’s said that ADHD is associated with dopamine dysregulation. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for a person’s personal drive, motivation, and reward. Abnormalities in this can make goals harder to realize, and this can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness, and guilt for not living up to societal expectations. This can, in turn, influence feelings of depression.
Is It ADHD, Depression, or Both?
Research has shown that the severity of a person’s depressive symptoms may also be linked to ADHD symptoms. ADHD symptoms can also be overlooked due to coexisting depression or anxiety symptoms. The relationship between these two conditions is complex and not necessarily one-way. Rather, each condition may influence a person’s experience of the other condition.
Reach Out to a Mental Health Professional
Only a doctor can provide a diagnosis of ADHD and/or depression. If you have been diagnosed with one condition and are wondering if you have the other, consider reaching out to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist for further assessment.
Treatment for Coexisting ADHD and Depression
Both ADHD and depression are treatable conditions. People with coexisting ADHD and depression have treatment options that include stimulant and nonstimulant medications to treat specific symptoms. Stimulants are the main treatment for ADHD, and are sometimes used to augment antidepressants in the management of depression. Antidepressant therapies are the main pharmacologic treatment for depression, and some antidepressants can also have benefit in ADHD. Examples include Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Effexor (venlafaxine).
In addition to medications, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in particular, has the potential to improve executive dysfunction (which will improve everyday functioning) and reduce symptoms of mood disorders, including major depressive disorder.
Supplementing Medication and Therapy
Medications and therapy aren’t the only options. People with ADHD and depression can also benefit from lifestyle changes, learning about their illnesses, social interventions (including anger management and social skills training), and academic or workplace interventions geared to increase overall functioning and quality of life.
ADHD and depression are commonly coexisting conditions with some overlapping symptoms. The link between the two is complex. It involves biological factors such as dopamine dysregulation, but also social and environmental factors including the way ADHD may limit a person’s self-esteem development. Treatment for both is available and includes medications, therapies, and social/work/academic support.
A Word From Verywell
Getting a diagnosis of depression or ADHD can be a relief, but it’s important to continue to monitor yourself or a loved one for signs of coexisting conditions. Overlapping symptoms or treatment for one condition may make the other condition more challenging to recognize and diagnose.
Consider telling someone if you think you may have a coexisting condition. Seeking support can help you receive the best treatment possible, assist with daily functioning, and improve your overall quality of life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a link between ADHD and anxiety?
Nearly half of people with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety may be a separate condition or it may develop as a result of living with ADHD. In both cases, seeking treatment for both conditions is encouraged.
Will depression go away with treatment?
Depression can ebb and flow throughout a person’s life. While there are effective treatments to reduce symptoms of depression, it can return. This doesn’t mean treatment failed, but it does mean a different approach may be necessary.
Is ADHD curable?
There is no cure for ADHD, but with treatment, it can be effectively managed and symptoms can be reduced to a point where everyday functioning is restored. Medications, therapy, skills training, education, and academic or work supports are all part of treatment for ADHD.