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ADHD

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What’s the Connection Between ADHD and Depression in Adults?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Oct 4, 2022

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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Understanding whether you have ADHD, major depression, or both can be difficult—especially since there’s so much overlap between the two. In fact, those with untreated, unregulated ADHD are more likely to develop depression due to the combination of intense internal and external stressors.

Learning the differences between these two conditions can help you find a treatment plan that is  tailored to your needs and situation. Below is a comparison guide to help you determine whether your symptoms are related to ADHD, depression, or both. 

If you feel that you are struggling with ADHD, severe depression, or a combination of the two, Klarity can help. Within 48 hours, we’ll connect you with a healthcare provider who can evaluate your condition, make a diagnosis, and get you started on treatment (if applicable)—all from the comfort of your home. Schedule your first online ADHD or depression appointment today.

This article discusses suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-8255.

Noticing symptoms and suspect you have a mental health condition? Take a free self-evaluation on Klarity today.

Overview of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—ADHD—is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While these symptoms may occur together, they may also appear individually.

Children—especially boys—are more often diagnosed with ADHD than adults and girls. This is because the well-known characteristics of ADHD show up more often in adolescent boys. ADHD presents differently in girls and adults, which can make it more difficult to recognize and diagnose. 

While those with regulated ADHD show an inclination toward curiosity, creativity, and active work, individuals with untreated ADHD may struggle with things like: 

  • School and workplace social structures
  • Establishing strong, healthy relationships

Three Types of ADHD

There are three main types of ADHD, each characterized by different symptoms.

  • Hyperactive ADHD
  • Inattentive ADHD
  • A combination of both

Hyperactive

When people think of ADHD, they usually picture the hyperactive variety. Those with this type of ADHD struggle to remain seated when necessary, act impulsively, and feel an intense need to be active. They may have difficulty regulating themselves and may be described as having an “intense” personality.

Some symptoms of hyperactive ADHD include: 

  • Feeling restless, constantly fidgeting 
  • Inability to concentrate on tasks
  • Unable to sit still, especially in quiet environments
  • Excessive talking 
  • Impulsive behaviors 

Inattentive

Those with inattentive ADHD don’t experience hyperactivity as often, but they do have more difficulty focusing or concentrating on tasks or conversations for long periods of time. This is especially true if the task or conversation isn’t very engaging for them.

Common symptoms of inattentive ADHD include: 

  • Easily distracted with a short attention span
  • Making seemingly careless mistakes at work or school
  • Seemingly forgetful, often losing things
  • Difficulty with tedious, time-consuming tasks
  • Challenges following instructions

Combined

Combined ADHD is exactly what it sounds like—a combination of hyperactive and inattentive ADHD characterized by impulsivity. To be diagnosed with combined ADHD, individuals must demonstrate 6 of the 9 behaviors for the inattentive and hyperactive ADHD scales—i.e., they must exhibit 12 out of 18 distinct behaviors. 

The symptoms of combined ADHD include a combination of the symptom sets listed above. For instance, someone may be unable to sit still for long periods and have difficulty concentrating.

Overview of Depression

Everyone feels sad or depressed now and then, but clinical depression is more than just an unpleasant emotion—it’s a registered medical condition. Also called major depressive disorder or major depression, clinical depression is chronic and all-encompassing. While emotional depression eventually subsides, clinical depression continuously comes and goes—sometimes for an individual’s entire life.

A depressive episode typically lasts a month or more, and a person may experience the following symptoms every day, for the majority of their day:

  • Extreme feelings of sadness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Outbursts of anger or frustration, even over small inconveniences
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed
  • Trouble maintaining a sleep schedule; insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, or engaging in conversation
  • Anxiety, irritability, or restlessness
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm
  • Physical issues such as weight gain, headaches, or back pain

The Similarities Between ADHD Symptoms and Depression

ADHD and depression are often comorbid—meaning that if you have one, it’s more likely that you also have the other. Of course, you can have major depression without having ADHD and vice versa, but there is a strong link between the two because they share many characteristics. 

For instance, adults with ADHD are three times more likely to experience depression than those without it. Teens with ADHD are ten times more likely to have depression. This link is likely due to two factors: 

  1. The overlap between symptoms
  2. The increased stress and frustration those with unregulated ADHD often experience

ADHD and depression can both cause fluctuating moods, seemingly random angry outbursts, agitation and restlessness, and difficulty establishing healthy eating patterns. Those with ADHD also usually face more frequent criticism and punishments—especially as children—because their behaviors are considered careless, disruptive, or rude. This extra pressure can negatively impact mental health and lead to depression. 

Does ADHD Cause Depression?

Simply having ADHD does not cause depression. However, individuals with unmanaged, untreated ADHD are more likely to experience depression than those receiving ADHD treatment or neurotypical people. This is likely because those with ADHD typically experience more stress and anxiety than other people. 

Difficulty concentrating and chronic forgetfulness combined with frequent external pressures can create a cycle of anxiety, frustration, and guilt that leads to burnout—which, in turn, can lead to acute or chronic depression. So, while ADHD does not directly cause depression, the two are certainly linked. 

Seeking ADHD treatment is one way to prevent depressive episodes. Medication can help you manage your symptoms to become more organized and focused, which can improve your relationships and professional life. 

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

ADHD can be tricky to diagnose, as it presents differently depending on factors like the patient’s gender or the type of ADHD they have. 

However, the DSM-V lists characteristics most often present in adults with this neurotype. To receive an official diagnosis, adults must exhibit five of the nine most common adult ADHD symptoms.  

ADHD characteristics for adults 18 and older include: 

  1. Fails to give close attention to details 
  2. Is easily distracted
  3. Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  4. Does not follow through on instructions
  5. Has trouble organizing tasks and activities
  6. Is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time
  7. Loses items often
  8. Is forgetful in daily activities
  9. Is often distracted by stimuli

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

The process for diagnosing clinical depression and ADHD is similar in that:

  • They’re both diagnosed using a combination of physical examination and psychoanalysis 
  • Diagnosis is imprecise due to the wide array of possible symptoms

In both cases, the first step to diagnosis is ruling out physical maladies that may be causing your symptoms. Next, your healthcare provider will ask a series of questions to identify behavioral patterns associated with depression—they may also give you the questionnaire to fill out on your own. 

To obtain a diagnosis of major depression, you must: 

  • Present with at least five symptoms of depression
  • Experience at least one symptom consecutively for two or more weeks

Once a diagnosis is reached, you’ll discuss depression treatment options with your provider, such as medication.

Comorbid ADHD and Depression Risk Factors

While anyone with ADHD can experience major depression, some individuals are at a higher risk of developing it than others. Some of the risk factors include the following: 

  • Inattentive-type ADHD can cause depression, as a lack of focus and attention to detail can make it difficult to establish and maintain healthy relationships.
  • ADHD individuals who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) may develop depression because of the perfectionism often impressed upon girls with ADHD.
  • Children diagnosed with ADHD may experience stigma and bullying. 
  • Children of mothers who had depression during pregnancy may have been affected by her hormones and develop depression themselves. 
  • Unmanaged, untreated ADHD can make it hard to function at work or school, causing frustration and feelings of hopelessness that cause depression.

Treating ADHD and Depression

When addressing comorbid depression and ADHD, it’s essential to find a licensed healthcare professional knowledgeable about both conditions. You should never attempt to self-diagnose or self-medicate your ADHD or depression symptoms online, as you could put yourself at risk for dangerous side effects or other conditions, like serotonin syndrome. 

Get ADHD and Depression Treatment Through Klarity

If you need a reliable and affordable way to treat your ADHD or depression, Klarity can help. 

Schedule an appointment on Klarity and get matched with a licensed and certified healthcare provider specializing in treating both ADHD and depression. Your provider will evaluate and diagnose your symptoms to determine the best treatment plan for you, including prescription stimulants or antidepressants, if necessary. 

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