Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression commonly occur together. According to Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD and wrote the book More Attention, Less Deficit: Successful Strategies for Adults with ADHD: “ADHD makes people’s lives harder, so it makes sense that they have more to be depressed about. This is especially true because ADHD difficulties usually persist — it’s not like going through a bad break-up where things get better with time.”
Because ADHD is lifelong, it “robs the person of optimism that things will ever improve, at least before a diagnosis is made and treatment started.”
Below, Tuckman talks about both disorders, which is treated first and what readers can do.
At first glance, depression and ADHD have a lot in common. They both make it difficult to concentrate, initiate projects or sleep well. They’re also associated with mood changes and irritability. But, according to Tuckman:
“Once you get into the details, they look very different. The biggest difference is that ADHD has been lifelong and pretty much existed across most aspects of the person’s life. Depression comes and goes or the person spent big parts of their life not depressed so the symptoms wouldn’t be present then if they were from the depression.”
Here’s what depression looks like, he said:
“People who are depressed generally don’t enjoy life as much as they used to. They may feel sad or empty or even irritable and angry. They don’t feel like themselves and have more trouble getting going on things, even activities that they would otherwise enjoy. They may sleep more than usual, or less. They may also eat more than usual, or less. They may also find that their concentration and memory don’t feel as strong.”
You’ll find a list of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms here.
It’s not uncommon for professionals to diagnose a person with depression but to miss their underlying ADHD — which can happen especially with girls and women, Tuckman said.
“People find what they are looking for and tend to not find what they aren’t looking for. If a clinician doesn’t think about ADHD often, they won’t see it in their patients.”
Which Disorder To Treat First
If “ADHD struggles are driving the depression,” Tuckman said, then he focuses on the ADHD first. This results in a “two-for-one,” he said, because “treating the ADHD improves their depression,” making the person “more effective and feel better about themselves.”
But he’ll focus on the depression, “if the depression is severe enough that it is interfering with their ability to address their ADHD.” He added that: “Most of the time, though, we are treating both simultaneously, at least in therapy. For medication, patients are usually started on something for one condition first, before adding in a second medication.”
What You Can Do
- Get your ADHD treated. Tuckman typically suggests that people “address their ADHD first with a good treatment program.” While ADHD may have fueled your depression, “the good news is that addressing their ADHD has the potential to really turn things around, in more ways than one.”
- Remember that your life will improve. As your ADHD is treated, Tuckman said, your life will probably get better “and…there is therefore some good reasons for optimism about the future–something that depression often robs us of.”
- Take action, even if you aren’t motivated. Depression also robs us of motivation and interest. “But we don’t have to feel motivated in order to do something. Sometimes we can do something even when we don’t really want to.” When you’re feeling unmotivated or just plain blah, tell yourself “that this will help [you] feel better or to at least take a chance that it might.”
If you have ADHD, have you struggled with depression, too? What’s helped?
If you’re a psychotherapist, what else can readers with ADHD and depression do? Please share your insights below!