Having Depression and ADHD Makes Each Condition More Severe

3 min read

Eighty percent of people with ADHD have at least one other co-occurring condition. Among the most common comorbidities is depression; studies show that 30% to 50% of people with ADHD also have depression. What’s more, symptoms of depression tend to be more severe in people with ADHD, leading to serious consequences if either condition is left undiagnosed and/or untreated. 

"Depression is a very isolative, very terrifying experience," says Roberto Olivardia, PhD, in his ADDitude webinar "The Anxiety and Depression Hiding Within: How to Recognize and Treat Latent Co-occurring Conditions." "It’s a very serious condition that goes beyond just feeling sad. Many people with depression will tell you that they feel the absence of everything, really, that makes them feel human."

When depression and ADHD co-exist, as they frequently do, the symptoms for both conditions are often more severe than those found in people who have depression or ADHD alone. "Depression impacts ADHD symptoms tremendously by exacerbating all of them," Olivardia explains. "And having ADHD can have a significant impact on the course of depression."

When contrasted with depression patients who do not have ADHD, patients who have both depression and ADHD experience:

  • More frequent hospitalizations due to depression 
  • More recurrent depressive episodes
  • Higher suicide risks and attempts

"If you imagine the impulsivity that we see with ADHD, coupled with what we see in terms of the suicide and suicidality rate of people with depression, it makes a lot of sense," Olivardia says. 

In his ADDitude article "The ADHD – Depression Link: Symptom Parallels and Distinctions," William Dodson, MD, discusses the findings of a recent large-scale, decade-long study that followed 388,000 young adults with ADHD and an equal number of young adults without ADHD. These findings include:

  • About half of the ADHD group had a depressive episode over the past decade. This was two times the rate for the non-ADHD group. 
  • 13% of people with ADHD attempted suicide, four times the rate of neurotypical group.

Fully understanding the complex relationship between comorbid depression and ADHD is essential. This begins by figuring out the origin of the depression, which varies from patient to patient. "For some people, depression runs in the family and it's a very biological issue, independent of the ADHD," Olivardia says. "For other people, it could be situational, based upon things that have nothing to do with their ADHD symptoms."

For others, the depression could be brought on, or exacerbated, by ADHD symptoms. "Sometimes depression arises as a direct consequence of the chronic frustration and disappointment that many individuals with ADHD experience," explains Carl Sherman, PhD, in his ADDitude article "Is It ADHD, Depression, or Both?" "All the struggles that ADHD symptoms can bring, like troubles with school, relationships, work, executive functions, and the demands of everyday life can lead people with the condition to often feel badly about themselves, making them prone to low self-esteem and negative self-concept."

To ensure the best possible outcomes, patients should work with a clinician who can fully diagnose all conditions present and can devise a treatment plan that takes the interplay of these comorbid disorders into account. 

For more information about the relationship between ADHD and depression, watch the full replay of Olivardia’s free ADDitude webinar "The Anxiety and Depression Hiding Within: How to Recognize and Treat Latent Co-occurring Conditions."



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