ADHD and Depression: What's the Link?

ADHD and Depression

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological condition that affects your emotions, behavior, and way of learning. People with ADHD are often diagnosed as children, and many continue to show symptoms into adulthood. 

Although the condition can be treated, there’s no cure for ADHD. Medications can help control symptoms like depression. Behavioral strategies can help people with ADHD manage hyperactivity and impulsivity and focus more effectively.

Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD is an umbrella term for a wide range of symptoms that fall into three main categories. People who have predominantly inattentive type have trouble paying attention and organizing thoughts, and get distracted easily.

Those with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type feel restless, interrupt or blurt out information, move around constantly, and find it difficult to sit still.

Those with the combination type of ADHD experience a combination of the two types.

Overlapping Symptoms of Depression

Some symptoms of ADHD overlap with signs of depression, making it hard to differentiate between the two conditions. Restlessness, boredom, and not enjoying school, work, or hobbies can be symptomatic of both ADHD and depression.

According to the Journal of Affective Disorders, medications prescribed to manage ADHD symptoms can produce side effects that mimic depression, including:

  • sleep difficulties
  • loss of appetite
  • mood swings
  • fatigue
  • restlessness

Risk of Depression in People with ADHD

A disproportionate number of children and adults with ADHD also suffer from depression. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that ten times as many kids with ADHD (about 18 percent of the total population of children with ADHD) also suffered from depression during their adolescent years.

According to the study, females with ADHD have a higher depression risk than males, even though more males suffer from ADHD overall. People who have the predominantly inattentive or combined types of the condition are more likely to suffer from depressive disorders than those with the hyperactive-impulsive variety.

Link Between Mother and Child

Another risk factor for depression in children and adults with ADHD is the mental health status of their mothers. JAMA Psychiatry explains that women who suffered from depression or had serotonin impairment during pregnancy were more likely to produce children who are diagnosed with ADHD and/or depression.

The researchers concluded that more extensive studies are needed, but low serotonin function could affect the developing brain of the fetus, creating ADHD-like symptoms.

Suicidal Thoughts

Teens and adults who were diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 4 and 6 years old have a high risk of becoming depressed later in life and/or having suicidal thoughts.

Researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh report that girls between the ages of 6 and 18 years old who have ADHD are more likely to think about suicide than non-ADHD peers. Those who ponder or attempt suicide are typically the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type.

However, according to study director Dr. Benjamin Lahey, “Suicide attempts were relatively rare, even in the study group….more than 80 percent of the children with ADHD did not attempt suicide."

Early Intervention

Early diagnosis and intervention for both ADHD and depression is crucial to keeping children and adults healthy and safe. Parents who observe symptoms of ADHD or depression in their child should consult a doctor. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the more quickly treatment for either or both conditions can begin.

Living with ADHD and Depression

Living with ADHD and depression can be challenging, but relief comes in knowing that the conditions can be managed. Stimulant and anti-depressant medications successfully treat ADHD in most people.

Behavioral therapy can help improve focus and build self-esteem. Talk therapy can be a positive step for both conditions. If you have ADHD and feel like depression is holding you back, ask a doctor, family member, or trusted friend for help.

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