The Link Between Depression and ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on November 27, 2023
3 min read

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression can go hand-in-hand. Doctors sometimes call them comorbid or coexisting conditions, meaning you can have both at the same time.

ADHD is a brain disorder that makes it hard to focus. Children and adults who have it might have trouble finishing tasks, sitting still, or keeping track of things, appointments, or details.

Depression is more than just an occasional case of the blues. It’s deep sadness and despair you feel every day for at least 2 weeks at a time. It can make it hard to work, go to school, or sleep.

Up to 30% of children who have ADHD also have a serious mood disorder like depression. And some experts say that more than half of people who have the condition will get treatment for depression at some point in their lives.

People with ADHD are diagnosed with anxiety and depression more often than others.

Anxiety often appears earlier on. Depression tends to develop as children age.

Either condition could cause ADHD-like symptoms, like poor concentration and restlessness. If you're not sure which came first, tell your doctor what you've noticed in your child to help figure out what's going on.

Some symptoms of ADHD and depression are a lot alike, and that can make it tough to diagnose and treat those conditions. For example, trouble with focus is one of the signs of both depression and ADHD. And if you take medicines to help with your ADHD symptoms, they may affect your sleep or eating habits – both of which can be signs of depression, too. In children, hyperactivity and crankiness can be symptoms of depression as well as ADHD.

Also, ADHD can lead to depression when people have a hard time with their symptoms. Children may have trouble getting along in school or with playmates, or adults may have issues at work. That can lead to deep feelings of hopelessness and other signs of depression.

Doctors don’t know what causes either condition, but they both seem to be linked to your family history. People with depression or ADHD often have a parent or other family member who has it as well.

Treatment for both conditions usually involves a combination of medication and meetings with a therapist.

How you start may depend on what condition is causing you more trouble. For example, if ADHD is causing stress, treating that first may take away one of the causes of depression.

  • ADHD is often treated with stimulants that boost brain chemicals linked to focus and thinking. They can help with symptoms while you're at school or work, but they can also make you less hungry or cause headaches or sleep problems.
  • Some ADHD drugs don’t involve stimulants and don’t have the same side effects. But they may not work as quickly. Your doctor might give you a combination of stimulant and non-stimulant drugs.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to treat depression. These can take several weeks to work and may have side effects, including thoughts of suicide. Children or teenagers in particular should be watched closely while taking them.
  • Antidepressants may also help with symptoms of ADHD, either in place of stimulants or as part of a combination of drugs to treat both conditions. Antidepressants won’t help with ADHD directly, but they can help with crankiness or moodiness.

Psychotherapy can offer ways to manage your symptoms and live a healthy life. A therapist can give you strategies to deal with everyday challenges, such as issues with friends, family, work, or school.