Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects children and adults. ADHD develops when the brain and central nervous system develop impairments related to growth and development. A person with ADHD will show varying degrees of these three behaviors: inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. 1

Because children and adults with ADHD struggle with focusing, organizing tasks, and feeling restless, they might experience sadness, guilt, irritability, low self-confidence and helplessness. In some cases, these symptoms can signal depression.

Some experts assert that up to 70% of people with ADHD will seek treatment for depression at least once. One study at the University of Chicago reported that adolescents with ADHD are ten times more likely to suffer from depression than adolescents without an ADHD diagnosis.

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Concerned about ADHD and/or Depression?

Our 2-minute Self-Assessments may help identify if you could benefit from further diagnosis and treatment related to either condition.

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Symptoms of Depression

Common symptoms of depression can include:2

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Trouble paying attention and concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Excessive sleep or insomnia
  • Psychomotor impairment
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Irritability, impulsivity and increased anger in children and teens.

Who Is at Risk?

While boys are more likely to develop ADHD, girls are at higher risk for developing depression with ADHD.3 Children diagnosed with ADHD at a young age are also higher risk. If a mother experiences depression during pregnancy, the child is also at increased risk for ADHD and/or depression.4 People with the inattentive subtype of ADHD are also at higher risk for depression compared to those with the hyperactive-impulsive subtype.5

In addition to depression, there is also a risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for people with ADHD. Young females with ADHD are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts, and people with the hyperactive-impulsive subtype may also experience increased risk. A potential side effect of certain medications that treat ADHD is suicidal thoughts.6 It’s imperative that you speak with your doctor if you start to experience suicidal thoughts. If you have a child with ADHD who appears depressed, don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve thought of hurting or killing themselves, or dying. The sooner you find out, the faster you can find a treatment that is the best and safest.

Getting a Diagnosis

There are some distinctions between ADHD and depression. For example, a depressed person often lacks interest in most activities and motivation, whereas a person with ADHD may have difficult starting a task or or organizing one. A person with ADHD may have low moods triggered by particular events, whereas a person with depression can experience a low mood for weeks or months at a time, often for no particular reason.

The trouble with diagnosing ADHD and/or depression,7 however, is that there are overlapping symptoms between the two diagnoses. These include feeling of restlessness and having trouble concentrating. To further complicate things, many of the side effects of ADHD medications, such as sleep problems, loss of appetite, and fatigue, can imitate a depressive episode. This is why it’s important to talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist who can help you decipher the exact cause of symptoms. If a child with ADHD experiences sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts, then this may merit an additional diagnosis of depression.

Treatment Options

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. Children with ADHD and depression may also benefit from family therapy, so that all family members can understand the diagnosis, help a child manage symptoms, and communicate better with each other. When seeking a therapist, don’t be afraid to ask if they have expertise in treating both ADHD and depression.

When medication is prescribed, a psychiatrist or your doctor may choose to treat the disorder with the symptoms that cause the most impairment.9 Medications and antidepressants may be prescribed together or individually to treat the symptoms. Because some ADHD medications and antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, it’s important to report all side effects to your doctor.

What Can I Do Today?

If you have a diagnosis of ADHD and think you might also be depressed—or your child has ADHD and you suspect depression— talk to your doctor as soon as you can. It’s possible that the medication being used to treat the ADHD is causing these symptoms and can be changed or adjusted. It’s also possible that the depression is not caused by medication and needs additional treatment. Listen to your mind, body, and emotions, and don’t be afraid to take notes. With the right support and attention, the grip of depression can loosen and allow you to live an engaging and healthy life.

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Last Updated: Sep 23, 2019