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ADHD and depression: Are they related?

ADHD and depression: Are they related?

ADHD and depression are two distinct mental health conditions, though it's possible and common to have both. ADHD symptoms can also lead to depressive episodes.

Reviewed by:
Michael Roman, MD
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April 29, 2024
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Key takeaways

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and major depressive disorder (AKA depression) are two mental health conditions that can have a major impact on your functioning and quality of life. Each on its own can cause difficulties related to school, work, social life, and relationships.  

The impacts of ADHD and depression can be even more pronounced when they occur together––which might happen more commonly than you think.

Read on to learn about the relationship between ADHD and depression, the symptoms of both disorders, and how to treat them.


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Does ADHD cause depression?

If you’re diagnosed with ADHD and depression, or think you may have both conditions, you may be wondering if they’re related. Researchers have found links between ADHD and major depressive disorder. When you have ADHD, you aren’t guaranteed to develop depression, but your chances of developing this mood disorder can be higher.  
So, why is this the case? One theory is that the symptoms and effects of living with ADHD, such as difficult family relationships, bullying, or poor performance in school, can contribute to someone developing depression. For instance, when ADHD makes it difficult to concentrate and starts to impact your grades (or work), it can make you feel inadequate both academically (and professionally) and in social situations. These experiences might lower your self-esteem and lead to feelings of worthlessness. Especially if someone’s ADHD isn’t diagnosed or treated, symptoms will likely continue to get in the way of functioning and quality of life and contribute to the risk of depression.  

Another theory that researchers have is that there is a genetic component to ADHD and depression. Genes associated with ADHD may also be linked to other mental health conditions. That means if you have genes that make you predisposed to ADHD, those same genes may make it more likely that you’ll have another condition such as depression.  

Plus, if you have family members who have ADHD or depression, you are more likely to have the conditions yourself. To learn more about the link between genetics and ADHD, check out: Are you born with ADHD?

In many cases, it’s likely that someone with ADHD’s depression is due to a combination of both genetics and the persistent challenges and setbacks caused by ADHD.

Factors that can heighten the risk of depression in people with ADHD

There are a few other factors that might put you at an even higher risk of developing depression as someone with ADHD, including:

Can you have both ADHD and depression?

It’s possible to have ADHD and depression at the same time (comorbid). In fact, it’s pretty common. The CDC reports that 17% of children and adolescents with ADHD have depression (compared to 4.4% of the general population of children and adolescents who just have depression). Similarly, around 18.6% of adults with ADHD have depression (compared to 4.7% of the general population of adults who only have depression).  

Living with both ADHD and depression can be difficult since symptoms of ADHD can worsen depression, and symptoms of depression can worsen ADHD. Without adequate treatment, this can lead to a vicious cycle of both conditions intensifying, making it harder to complete your daily tasks and enjoy life. If you think you have symptoms of depression or ADHD, don’t wait to get help. Seeing a psychiatrist is a good idea to help determine what’s going on.

On top of depression, ADHD commonly occurs alongside other mental health concerns such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. It’s estimated that up to 80% of people with ADHD have at least one co-occurring psychiatric condition. AHD can lead to a depressed mood and likewise depression can lead to difficulty with attention and concentration.

How do you know which one you have?

While it can help to read up on both conditions to understand their symptoms better, the only surefire way to know whether you have ADHD, depression, or both is to get evaluated by a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist.

ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a disorder that affects the way your brain develops and grows. Symptoms are typically present since childhood, but many people aren’t diagnosed until later in life, during their teen years or even adulthood. ADHD symptoms can show up differently in everyone, but there are three primary categories of common symptoms, including:

  • Inattention: You may get easily distracted, have trouble remaining focused on tasks, or are frequently forgetful.  
  • Hyperactivity: You might feel like you can’t sit still, talk excessively, fidget a lot, or always be on the go.
  • Impulsivity: You may have trouble with self-control, interrupt people during conversations, or struggle to wait your turn.  

If you have symptoms in all three categories, you have a “combined presentation” of ADHD. Or, you could have a predominantly “inattentive presentation” or a “hyperactive-impulsive presentation” if your symptoms fall mostly in those respective categories.  

Major depression is a mental health condition characterized by a chronic low mood. In order to be diagnosed with depression, your symptoms have to be present for at least two weeks.  

Depression feels a bit different for everyone, but regardless, the symptoms severely impact your functioning and quality of life. Signs of depression include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Feeling empty  
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating  
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Feeling worthless or having low self-esteem
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Trouble with sleep (either insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or death

ADHD vs depression

There is some overlap between the symptoms of ADHD and depression. See this chart below for key similarities and differences..  

Feature ADHD Depression
Symptoms typically start in childhood, but can happen in adulthood, particularly related to attention issues
The main symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
The main symptom is persistent low mood
Trouble focusing
Trouble with memory

While you might heavily relate to symptoms of either disorder, it’s important not to self-diagnose and see a psychiatrist instead. Plus, if they determine you do have a mental health condition, they can come up with a treatment plan to help you feel better.  

How are depression and ADHD treated?

Treatment will vary depending on whether you have depression, ADHD, or comorbid depression and ADHD. After taking your family history, personal history, and hearing about all of your symptoms, your psychiatrist will craft the most effective treatment plan for you and your unique situation. Here’s what you need to know about the treatments for depression and ADHD.  

Treatment of depression

The first line of treatment for depression is typically talk therapy (AKA psychotherapy), antidepressant medications, or a combination of both. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, including Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline) and SNRIs (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) like Effexor (venlafaxine). These drugs work by affecting the brain chemicals related to mood. Other types of medications for depression include TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) and atypical antidepressants.

When it comes to talk therapy, the most common therapy for depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify unhealthy ways of thinking and create healthier thoughts and behaviors.  

Treatment of ADHD

Stimulants are a common first-line of action for ADHD treatment. Common stimulant medications you might have heard of are Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate). These drugs work by affecting chemical messengers in your brain (AKA neurotransmitters), specifically norepinephrine and dopamine. By increasing the availability of these neurotransmitters in your brain, stimulants relieve ADHD symptoms, lessen hyperactivity, increase focus, and boost your overall ability to think and make decisions.  

However, stimulants (or stimulants prescribed on their own) aren’t the right fit for everyone with ADHD. Some non-stimulant prescription options are:  

  • Alpha-2 noradrenergic agonists
  • Atypical antidepressants, specifically NDRIs (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors)
  • Specific SNRIs and TCAs

If you have comorbid depression and ADHD, some of these meds (like an atypical antidepressant like Wellbutrin) can help address depressive symptoms, too. On top of medications, ADHD treatment can include therapy and skills training to improve executive dysfunction.  

When it comes down to it, your treatment plan will be unique to you and your symptoms. If your doctor diagnoses you with ADHD, depression, or both, they will help you find the best course of medications to relieve your symptoms. For many people with ADHD and/or depression, a combination of therapy and medication can make a huge difference in quality of life and day-to-day functioning.

If you’re looking for a psychiatrist, consider Talkiatry. We’re a national psychiatry practice that provide virtual, in-network care so you can get the treatment for ADHD and depression you need from home. To get started, complete our free online assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist.  

FAQs  

Here's what else to know about ADHD and depression.

Can ADHD make someone depressed?

Yes, ADHD can contribute to the development of depression. The challenges and frustrations associated with ADHD, like difficulties with focus and organization, can lead to feelings of overwhelm and low mood, potentially resulting in depression.

Do antidepressants help ADHD?

While antidepressants are primarily used to treat depression, some types may also be helpful  to lessen certain symptoms of ADHD. However, they are not typically considered the first-line treatment for ADHD. There are other non-stimulant and stimulant medications specifically approved for ADHD that may be more effective, but your doctor can talk you through what’s right for you.

Do ADHD meds help depression?

ADHD medications primarily target symptoms related to attention, focus, and impulsivity. While they may indirectly improve mood and alleviate some depressive symptoms, they are not specifically designed to treat depression. Certain antidepressant medications like Wellbutrin (bupropion) may help both conditions. If you are experiencing depression alongside ADHD, you should discuss your symptoms with your doctor who will come up with different treatment options.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Frequently asked questions

Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

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The best way to get a detailed estimate of your cost is to contact your insurance company directly, since your cost will depend on the details of your insurance.  

For some, it’s just a co-pay. If you have an unmet deductible it could be more.  

Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

About
Michael Roman, MD

Dr. Michael Roman is currently a Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Roman is a board-certified Adult Psychiatrist and a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Dr. Roman’s clinical practice centers primarily around medication management and psychopharmacological treatment approaches. He also specializes in a variety of psychotherapeutic modalities which he utilizes in conjunction with medication management in order to provide patients with the best possible treatment outcomes.

Dr. Roman’s curiosity for the studies of the human mind began with pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was intrigued by the way our mind, body, emotions, and behavior were intertwined to comprise our everyday life experiences. His interest in the intricacy of the human mind was deepened in medical school, and he received his medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Roman treats a wide spectrum of patients, but his primary clinical focus is treating mood disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. Dr. Roman also specializes in treating substance use disorders and possesses clinical expertise in implementing high quality motivational interviewing and motivational enhancing therapy.

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