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ADHD and Depression: What’s the Link?

ADHD and depression

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological condition. It can affect your emotions, behavior, and ways of learning. People with ADHD are often diagnosed as children, and many continue to show symptoms into adulthood. If you have ADHD, you can take steps to manage it. Your doctor may prescribe medications, behavioral therapy, counseling, or other treatments.

A disproportionate number of children and adults with ADHD also experience depression. For example, researchers from the University of Chicago have found that adolescents with ADHD are 10 times more likely to develop depression than those without ADHD. Depression can also affect adults with ADHD.

If you suspect you have ADHD, depression, or both, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help diagnose your symptoms. They can also help you develop a treatment plan that works for you.

What are the symptoms?

ADHD is an umbrella term for a wide range of symptoms. There are three main types of the condition:

  • Predominantly inattentive type: You might have this type of ADHD if you have trouble paying attention, struggle to organize your thoughts, and get distracted easily.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type: You might have this type of ADHD if you frequently feel restless, interrupt or blurt out information, and find it difficult to stay still.
  • Combination type: If you have a combination of the two types described above, you have combination type ADHD.

Depression can also cause a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness
  • frequent feelings of anxiety, irritability, restlessness, or frustration
  • loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • trouble paying attention
  • changes in your appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • fatigue

Some of the symptoms of depression overlap with the symptoms of ADHD. This can make it hard to tell the two conditions apart. For example, restlessness and boredom can be symptomatic of both ADHD and depression. In some cases, the medications prescribed for ADHD can also produce side effects that mimic depression. Some ADHD medications can cause:

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

If you suspect you might be depressed, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.

What are the risk factors?

If you have ADHD, a number of risk factors affect your chances of developing depression.

Sex

You’re more likely to develop ADHD if you’re male. But according to researchers from the University of Chicago, you’re more likely to develop depression with ADHD if you’re female. Females with ADHD have a higher risk of becoming depressed than males.

ADHD type

The researchers from the University of Chicago also found that people who have predominantly inattentive type ADHD or combined type ADHD are more likely to experience depression than those with the hyperactive-impulsive variety.

Maternal health history

The mental health status of your mother also affects your chances of developing depression. In an article published in JAMA Psychiatry, scientists reported that women who had depression or serotonin impairment during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to children who were later diagnosed with ADHD, depression, or both. More research is needed. But these results suggest that low serotonin function can affect the brain of a woman’s developing fetus, creating ADHD-like symptoms.

What is the risk of suicidal thoughts?

If you were diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 4 and 6, you may have a higher risk of becoming depressed and having suicidal thoughts later in life. Research published in JAMA Psychiatry reported that girls between 6 and 18 years old with ADHD are more likely to think about suicide than their peers without ADHD. Those with hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD are more likely to become suicidal than those with other types of the condition.

Your overall risk of suicidal thoughts is still relatively low. The study director, Dr. Benjamin Lahey, notes, “Suicide attempts were relatively rare, even in the study group … more than 80 percent of the children with ADHD did not attempt suicide.”

How can you treat ADHD and depression?

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing symptoms of both ADHD and depression. If you suspect you have one condition or both, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you develop a treatment plan that works for you.

Your doctor might prescribe a combination of treatments, such as medications, behavioral therapy, and talk therapy. Some antidepressant medications can also help relieve symptoms of ADHD. For example, your doctor might prescribe imipramine, desipramine, or bupropion. They may also prescribe stimulant medications for ADHD.

Behavioral therapy can help you develop coping strategies to manage your symptoms. It may help improve your focus and build your self-esteem. Talk therapy can also provide relieve for symptoms of depression and the stress of managing a chronic health condition. Leading a healthy lifestyle is also important. For example, try to get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, and exercise regularly.

The takeaway

If you have ADHD, your chances of developing depression increase. If you suspect you’re experiencing depression, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you identify the cause of your symptoms and recommend treatment.

Living with ADHD and depression can be challenging, but you can take steps to manage both conditions. Your doctor may prescribe stimulant and antidepressant medications. They may also recommend counseling or other therapies.

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