Depression and neurodivergent have similar symptoms, but are they the same? Explore the link between neurodivergence and depression here.

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Neurodivergent means someone’s brain works or develops differently than neurotypical people’s brains.

Neurodivergence impacts sociability, mood, attention, learning, and other cognitive functions, leading to people wondering if depression is neurodivergent.

Neurodivergence occurs when someone’s brain operates outside a typical range of functioning, resulting in various strengths and limitations. On the other hand, neurotypical is a term used when someone’s brain functions within a normative range.

Sometimes neurodivergent people have medical conditions, but that isn’t always the case. It includes medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. More specifically, here are some of the diagnoses that qualify as neurodivergent:

Diagnostically, depression is not a neurodivergent disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR). Instead, it’s currently classified as a mood disorder. But that doesn’t mean it will never be reclassified.

Neurodivergence and depression are often linked because they share similarities. However, there are also differences, including the onset, patterns, and treatment options. They often co-occur, and both involve changes to the brain, but so far, it hasn’t been enough to allow for a classification change.


Neurodiverse people are more likely to experience depression and other mental health conditions than others. When life is more accommodating to neurotypical people, the needs of neurodiverse people get unintentionally ignored. It can lead to:

  • discrimination
  • social exclusion
  • bullying
  • other situations that negatively impact self-esteem and well-being

One study shows that someone with autism is four times more likely to be depressed than others. Another study indicates one in every three people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have or have experienced depression.

While neurodivergence often co-occurs with depression, not all neurodiverse people experience mental health conditions.

How someone views and manages the world

Depression can contribute to someone experiencing the world differently than others, much like someone who is neurodivergent. Since one of the neurodiverse community’s goals is to destigmatize and challenge the shame associated with being different, those with depression could benefit from similar advocacy.

Depression and neurodivergent conditions are similar in that they contribute to differences in:

  • learning styles
  • cognition
  • social engagement
  • perception

If you face challenges, you’re not alone. People with depression or neurodivergent conditions can experience personal growth and achievement.

Brain function and neurological processes

Depression involves differing brain functions and neurological processes. Since neurodivergence includes what differs from typical brain functioning, depression could fit the description.

Someone with depression has differences in their brain that affect neurochemicals and neurotransmitters related to hypersensitivity, mood, and cognition. These differences are much like neurodivergent traits, along with social barriers stemming from differing brain functions that those with depression often face.

Treatment options

Depression can be treated, helping improve the frequency and severity of symptoms. On the other hand, neurodivergent disorders usually aren’t treatable.

According to Steve Carleton, LCSW, CAS, and Chief Clinical Officer at Porch Light Health, ”Depression, unlike neurodivergent disorders, is a health issue that can be effectively managed and treated. In contrast, neurodivergence is usually a permanent condition, with the prospect of achieving remission often deemed unachievable.”

Occurrence frequency

Another difference is that depression can be episodic, while neurodivergent conditions occur continuously.

While depression symptoms can ease and the frequency of symptoms might decrease or enter remission entirely, symptoms of neurodivergent conditions don’t do that.

Ashley Murry, LCSW and Chief Clinical Officer at Sana Lake Recovery Centers explains that, “Depression can be triggered by different circumstances and situations happening around an individual’s life. And, depression is also curable. With correct treatment, there can be visible improvements, and with constant efforts, the symptoms can go into remission.”

The onset

The onset of symptoms between depression and neurodivergent conditions differ because depression often does not occur until someone is in their teens or early twenties.

Neurodivergent conditions affect people during childhood, and they are often born with it.

Most neurodivergent children experience brain differences from birth, and depression is something that develops later. Children can have depression, but it is not as common as it is in adults. And it is not present when they’re born.

Instead, the feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and loss of pleasure that signify depression have a later onset than neurodivergent symptoms.

Strengths and challenges

Neurodivergent people have strengths and challenges that differ from depression. They may have strong attention to detail and incredible observational skills. However, depression can hinder these processes, leading to missing details and not paying attention to surroundings.

Neurodivergency can also help someone maintain focus for long timeframes because they hyperfocus on things. On the other hand, depression can lead to not being able to focus or concentrate.

Neurodivergent people sometimes experience difficulties that don’t always impact someone with depression. These difficulties include:

Many aspects of depression are similar to neurodivergence, but there are also differences. Some professionals believe that depression is neurodivergent and should be classified that way. But others disagree and feel it should continue to be categorized as a mental health disorder.

More research is necessary before depression can be reclassified or to clarify the differences. Either way, destigmatizing neurodivergent conditions, depression, and any other condition that impacts how someone experiences the world can help promote acceptance.