What is the link between ADHD and depression?

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

Many individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience symptoms of depression with a low mood. Often, the depression results from years of relationship problems, failed attempts at school or work, and low self-esteem caused by ADHD behaviors. Some people with ADHD have coexisting mood disorders, such as depression, which require a specific diagnosis and treatment by a medical doctor.

Doctors usually prescribe an antidepressant and/or cognitive therapy to treat mood disorders such as depression with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Specifically, antidepressants, such as Norpramin, may benefit the symptoms of depression and ADHD. Other antidepressants, such as Prozac, may be prescribed along with stimulants for ADHD. Some newer antidepressants may benefit people with ADHD and depression, including the drugs Effexor and Wellbutrin. 

Cognitive therapy may benefit people with ADHD and depression by helping them reframe their thoughts and actions.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

If a person has negative views of himself that are global, stable, internal and persistent over time, they are at high risk for becoming depressed. The diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often makes people feel like there is something wrong with them, it is inside of them (not because they had a bad day), that it impacts all areas of functioning (not that they just stink at tennis) and that it will not go away with time. In short, the diagnosis of ADHD is a formula for creating depression. The very diagnostic criteria indicate that a person has a deficit and a disorder, that it must occur in more than one setting, that by definition it is not caused by the situation and will not go away with time.

In addition to a diagnosis of depression following attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there are two other common patterns: 1) ADHD and depression are both present and co-occurring, and 2) depression is misdiagnosed as ADHD or ADHD is misdiagnosed as depression. Sometimes people think they are clinically depressed when they are really just experiencing a reasonable reaction to a difficult life circumstance. Additionally, since depression symptoms include difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite—both of which are side effects of many attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications—the possibility of misdiagnosis are high.

Dr. Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine Specialist

The relationship between depression and attention deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may vary as a function of moderating variables, ADHD subtypes, and data source.

ADHD appears at a younger age and depression at an older age, and the strength of the association between the 2 disorders increases from childhood through adolescence.

Generally, it appears best to treat the depression first, because it is clinically the most limiting condition and leads to worse cognitive impairment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.