Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic disorder that shows signs and symptoms early in life. It’s been linked to various diseases and disorders, including substance use disorders, anxiety, and mood disorders like depression. As is the case with many mental health issues, ADHD is separate from these other problems, but they often occur together, and they have a lot of overlap.
ADHD and mood disorders like depression are often comorbid, which means they occur at the same time. Up to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have a mood disorder like depression.
Untreated ADHD can make a person feel isolated, and it may encourage anti-social behavior because of how difficult it is to connect to peers. Depression can feed into those issues and make them worse. However, both can be treated, even if they occur at the same time. Learn more about comorbid ADHD and Depression.
ADHD affects a person’s ability to focus and avoid distractions. It may also cause hyperactivity and difficulty engaging with others. People with ADHD tend to have low levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. These important chemical messengers are tied to reward, motivation, and alertness. If you are trying to complete a task and your brain isn’t releasing enough rewarding chemicals, distractions that cause a release of dopamine may be nearly irresistible.
Depression can also be linked to an under-stimulated brain. Depression and ADHD symptoms have a lot of overlap to the point that it can be difficult to tell them apart. For instance, both may cause a lack of motivation, a loss of focus, and even restlessness. Irritability and hyperactivity are also signs of both ADHD and depression in children.
Some of the same neurochemical problems may contribute to both disorders. Depression and ADHD are both linked to genetic causes. A 1997 study found a strong familial link between depression and ADHD, which could mean they share some of the same genetic risk factors. The study concludes by saying that depression in children in ADHD shouldn’t be assumed to be attributed to negative emotions from dealing with the disorder.
However, the negative emotions and stress associated with ADHD can significantly affect mental health. ADHD can lead to depression because of psychological problems as well, especially in children, or when it’s left untreated for a long time. ADHD can lower your self-esteem, isolate you from your peers, and make it difficult to connect with others. An unhealthy social atmosphere, coupled with a poor self-image, may lead to depressive symptoms and trigger depressive disorders.
Both disorders can benefit from treatments like psychotherapy and medications. Learning to cope with ADHD may help both issues. If a child learns to focus and interact with others in a way that leads to better mental health and social fulfillment, depressive symptoms may also improve. However, treating one while ignoring the other may not lead to success either. Depression may have its own genetic roots, and it may need to be treated as a related but separate problem.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
Bhandari, S. (2019, November 13). Depression and ADHD: How They're Linked. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/depression-adhd-link
Faraone, S. V., & Biederman, J. (1997, September). Do attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and major depression share familial risk factors? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9307614
National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, September). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml
National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml