ADHD and Depression

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, is a chronic condition that means the brain cannot focus on tasks. The condition can affect one’s ability to pay attention and make decisions. People with ADHD find it difficult to control their behavior and be impulsive. ADHD is often diagnosed in children, and many continue to show symptoms into adulthood.

What is Depression?

Depression is not just a feeling of being sad or down, but rather a serious medical condition. Depression involves several symptoms that interfere with daily life and can lead to suicide.

What Are the Links Between Depression and ADHD?

Both conditions share biological traits like genetics, socio-demographics, brain functioning, and cognitive symptoms. Most children diagnosed with ADHD between the age of 4 to 6 are likely to experience recurrent depression between ages 9 to 18. It is because the symptoms of ADHD continue throughout life, and the combination of disruptive behavior and depression can be very dangerous.

What causes both ADHD and Depression?

The cause of ADHD has not yet been established, but several factors have been associated with it. The presence and severity of the symptoms, other conditions like learning disabilities or bipolar disorder, and genetics have all been linked to ADHD. In addition, people with ADHD often have a family history of mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder.

People with depression are at significantly high risk because of their close biological commonalities with those who have this particular mental illness. Depression is a symptom of many different medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD has three different types, and these symptoms can vary depending on each type:

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

It does not occur often, and it tends to happen in very young children when it does occur. The child may act inappropriately or speak excessively. They may also be in constant motion and have difficulty focusing for long periods. Symptoms of this type of ADHD include:

• Impatient
• Restless and fidgety
• Lots of energy
• Interrupts conversations or others
• Talks too much
• Does not wait for a turn
• Disorganized
• Acts without thinking
• Aggressive behavior toward others

Inattentive ADHD

The person may appear to be easily distracted, forget details and make careless mistakes. They may lack motivation and interest in activities they once enjoyed. This type is most common in females but can occur in males. Some of the most common symptoms are:

• Easily distracted
• Difficulty finishing tasks
• Procrastinates
• Daydreaming
• Losing track of time
• Forgets things

Combination of Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

At this point, the person may be inattentive in some situations and hyperactive in others. They may be over-stimulated or under-stimulated, depending on their surroundings. Not all people with ADHD are affected by this type of ADHD, and some people with other conditions like learning disabilities can also be diagnosed with this particular type. Symptoms include:

• Difficulty finishing tasks
• Prone to breaking rules
• Frustrated with school
• Easily distracted
• They get into trouble repeatedly
• Loud and disruptive

Symptoms of Depression

Some common symptoms of depression include:

• Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness
• Unexplained aches and pains, feeling tired all the time
• Feelings of frustration, restlessness, and anxiety
• Experiencing insomnia or sleeping too much
• Feeling trapped, like life is an endless cycle of problems with no solution
• Having trouble concentrating
• Eating too little or too much

Some of the presentations of depression correspond with symptoms of ADHD, which can make it difficult to differentiate between the two conditions. Chances are, when you are diagnosed with one, the odds of you also being diagnosed with the other are higher.

Challenges People with Depression and ADHD Face

Most people that have ADHD and depression may have complications including:
• Anxiety
• Low tolerance for frustration
• Chronic boredom
• Mood swings
• Trouble controlling anger
• Problems at work
• Low self-esteem
• Low motivation
• Substance abuse or addiction
• Poor organization skills
• Procrastination

How To Differentiate Between ADHD And Depression

The best way to differentiate between ADHD and depression is to look for similar symptoms. If you have ADHD, and your symptoms are similar to those of depression, you may likely be suffering from a mood disorder as well.

In addition to learning how to identify symptoms, you should also let your doctor know that you struggle with both conditions. There are many situations in which medication can contribute to an improved life or an increased likelihood of a relapse into depression.

While both ADHD and depression involve mood, concentration, and motivation, they differ.


People with depression will often feel hopeless, helpless, and inadequate. They may also feel irritable and angry or develop sudden and out-of-character mood swings. The symptoms are difficult to shake, even when the person is not in a situation that would cause someone else to become upset. People with ADHD, on the other hand, usually have temporary feelings of sadness and frustration in situations where others would experience those emotions. The effects are often short-lived and sporadic.


Sleep problems are common in people with depression, but they can also be a symptom of ADHD. People with ADHD have affected sleep patterns. They may also wake up frequently or be tired during the day, while a person with depression may feel tired but sleep due to negative thoughts and insomnia.


People with depression often have a decreased interest in things and activities that were once enjoyable. They may also lose motivation to complete tasks or work. People with ADHD are usually, but not always, less motivated than others to complete tasks or work they have agreed to do.


The symptoms of ADHD are lifelong, but the symptoms of depression may come and go. It is also possible for a person to experience symptoms of both ADHD and depression at once or for one condition to develop in adulthood.

A common misconception is that ADHD and Depression are the same things. In actuality, they are different conditions with different triggers. While they can cause similar symptoms, they are not the same thing. They have different etiologies and treatments.

Risk Factors for ADHD And Depression

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


Although ADHD is common in males, females are more likely to have depression with ADHD.


You are more likely to experience depression if you had ADHD when you were a child. Early-onset of symptoms is linked to adult depression.

Maternal Mental History

The mental health history of your mother also affects your chances of developing depression. Women who had depression during pregnancy are more likely to have children with depression.


If your parents or other family members have had mood disorders, you might have a higher risk of depression.


People with inattentive type ADHD or combined type ADHD are more likely to experience depression than hyperactive-impulsive type.

Self-Harm and Suicide Ideation

The link between depression and ADHD is well documented. Mood disorders are often associated with suicide and self-harm. People with ADHD and depression have a higher risk of suicide than the general population.

Suicide Prevention

If you think someone is at risk of hurting themselves or another person:
• Ask the tough question, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”
• Do not leave the person alone.
• Call 911 or the nearest emergency number.
• Stay with the person until help arrives.
• Remove any weapons, medications, or other items that can cause self-harm.
• Listen to them without judging.

Treatment Of Depression And ADHD

Some of the most effective treatments focus on medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Combining treatment for both conditions is important, but identifying the right treatment is the key. In many cases, medications work better when paired with behavioral therapy or psychotherapy. If a person fails to respond to one treatment, switching strategies could answer.


Many medications can treat both ADHD and depression, but in some cases, medication is not enough to overcome the symptoms of either condition. An evaluation for a different medication or new combination of medications may be needed to increase your chances of successfully treating both conditions at once.


Stimulant medications are often used to treat ADHD, but they also effectively treat depression. Stimulants like Amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall) help increase brain chemicals that improve focus. They can have side effects such as losing appetite or trouble sleeping.


For those who do not respond to stimulants, non-stimulant medications such as Atomoxetine may be effective. While these medications are less likely to help people with hyperactive symptoms of ADHD, they can be an effective treatment for depression without causing the same side effects seen in stimulants like Adderall.


While the medications above are often used to treat both ADHD and depression, they are not the only options. Some people may benefit from antidepressants such as Bupropion or Fluoxetine. Often, people see improvements in their symptoms after 3-4 weeks of treatment.


Psychotherapy is the best treatment for depression and ADHD because it addresses both conditions at once. Many types of therapy are commonly used to treat depression and ADHD, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and psychodynamic therapy.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

This type of psychotherapy focuses on how people with depression and ADHD interact with others in their lives. You work with a team of therapists to help you modify your behavior, recognize triggers for your emotions, and improve relationships with loved ones.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people with depression and ADHD recognize negative thoughts and change their thoughts. It can help them recognize and avoid situations that trigger their symptoms.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapies focus on helping people with depression understand their unconscious thoughts and actions. This therapy often focuses on changing maladaptive behavior patterns like substance abuse, overspending, or poor performance.

Lifestyle Changes

Everyone has their own unique needs for treating depression and ADHD. Some people need to make lifestyle changes such as improving sleep, dietary changes, or exercise habits. You can make lifestyle changes in small steps over time. You can also make changes in large amounts, like adopting a healthy diet or changing work patterns.


Sleep plays a vital role in regulating mood and memory. If you are sleep-deprived, the brain may not process information properly, resulting in depression. Sleep and depressive symptoms often find themselves on the same spectrum, so improving sleep habits can improve both your mood and cognitive function.

Dietary Changes

Eating foods that promote inflammation can impact your brain health and increase the risk of depression. Sugar, processed foods, and other foods high in carbohydrates can cause inflammation in the body and lead to cognitive problems. Choose foods with good fats and protein, especially grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, and wild-caught fish, so you can maintain healthy body weight and promote a healthy mind.


Physical activity is important for maintaining mental and physical health, yet many fail to exercise regularly. Exercise helps the brain produce chemicals that help to improve focus and reduce anxiety.

Over the years, medications and therapies have been used to treat depression and ADHD. As expertise in these areas has progressed, so too have the options available to treat symptoms of depression and ADHD. Newer treatments offer new hope for those suffering from symptoms of both conditions and provide better outcomes for these individuals.

Contact Defining Wellness Centers

Depression and ADHD can cause many symptoms that make it difficult to go through the day-to-day tasks of life. While many people with depression or ADHD experience symptoms independently, some may have both conditions. You may benefit from treatment at a state-of-the-art healthcare facility, like Defining Wellness Center. We offer behavioral and cognitive therapy programs designed to address each individual’s needs.

If you have been experiencing symptoms of ADHD or depression, please seek help as soon as possible. Call us at Defining Wellness Center today. Our team of professionals is always ready to help you find and treat the disorder plaguing your mind and body. Our staff is available to provide insight into your questions and help you find the best treatment for you and your loved ones.

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If you are ready to take the step towards a new life, call Defining Wellness today and learn more about how we can help you.