The Relationship Between ADHD and Depression

adhd and depression

Verywell / Laura Porter

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ADHD and depression are separate disorders but tend to have much overlap.

If you've been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, you might wonder what this means for you in terms of prognosis, treatment, and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your situation.

What Is ADHD?

Before we start to disentangle the complex relationship between ADHD and depression, it's important to understand individually what is involved with each diagnosis.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that it is present from childhood and persists throughout your lifetime. People diagnosed with ADHD may exhibit what is called an executive function deficit: they struggle to follow tasks through to completion and easily become disorganized, missing appointments and losing their things.

ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood and can be categorized into three different presentations.


People with inattentive ADHD have difficulty sustaining attention for tasks that they find boring, have trouble organizing their thoughts and following conversations, and may be easily distracted by what's going on around them or their own internal dialogue.


People with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD have a constant feeling of being restless, may say things spontaneously without thinking first, and find it hard to stay still (such as sitting in a classroom for lessons).

Combination of Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive

People with the combined presentation will experience both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.

What Is Depression?

Depression is more than just sadness or a case of the blues. Many people experience recurrent episodes that can last anywhere from weeks to months or longer.

Below are the most common symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or empty
  • Being irritable, frustrated, or restless
  • Loss of interest in things you used to like doing
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Having trouble falling asleep or waking up through the night
  • Feeling overly tired or fatigued

Depression can make it hard to do everyday tasks like going to work or school, taking care of your personal hygiene, and eating healthy meals. It is also a life-threatening illness when it is severe and leads to suicidal ideation.

Overlap of ADHD and Depression

How do ADHD and depression overlap? We know that these are comorbid conditions, which means that when you are diagnosed with one, the odds of you also being diagnosed with the other are higher.

Below are some facts on the overlap of ADHD and depression:

  • Teens with ADHD are 10 times more likely than their peers without ADHD to develop depression.
  • Depression is three times more prevalent in adults with ADHD compared to adults without ADHD.
  • People diagnosed with depression tend to have rates of ADHD diagnosis of about 30 to 40%.
  • 70% of people diagnosed with ADHD may also experience depression in their lifetime.

Furthermore, in a study that examined data from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety, it was found that rates of ADHD were higher among those who had severe depression, chronic depression, early-onset depression, or comorbid anxiety. This suggests a strong relationship between ADHD and depression.

With respect to suicidal ideation, a study of 627 undergraduates showed that a diagnosis of ADHD was related to increased suicidal ideation. This relationship was affected by various factors such as management of negative emotions, emotional awareness, and goal-oriented behavior.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Is It ADHD or Depression?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell ADHD and depression apart. This is because there are overlapping symptoms, but also because some ADHD medications can cause side effects that mimic depression such as loss of appetite or sleeping difficulties.

While both ADHD and depression involve issues related to mood, concentration, and motivation, they do differ.


A person with ADHD may experience temporary mood lability all the way back to childhood, while a person with depression tends to have mood episodes, beginning in the teens or later, that last at least weeks or months.


A person with ADHD can be motivated when something feels interesting to them, whereas a person with depression finds everything hard, regardless of whether it is interesting or exciting to them normally when they are not depressed.


A person with ADHD has trouble falling asleep because of an active mind and not feeling tired, while a person with depression may feel tired but unable to sleep due to negative thoughts and insomnia, may wake up through the night, or may sleep too long.


The symptoms of ADHD are lifelong while major depression symptoms tend to last for a certain period before often improving to a normal level of functioning.

Risk Factors for Comorbid ADHD and Depression

What are the risk factors for having comorbid ADHD and depression? Below are some of the risk factors that have been identified.

  • Being female: Although ADHD is more common in males, females are more likely to have comorbid ADHD and depression.
  • Inattentive type: Those diagnosed as inattentive type are more likely to also have a diagnosis of depression.
  • Mother's mental health: When a mother has depression during pregnancy, this is linked to a higher likelihood of giving birth to a child who is later diagnosed with ADHD, depression, or both.
  • Early-onset: Being diagnosed with ADHD during childhood is related to an increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts later in life.
  • Not receiving treatment: People who have untreated ADHD are at higher risk for depression due to secondary issues such as low self esteem.

Treatment for Overlapping ADHD and Depression

What types of treatment are offered if you have overlapping ADHD and depression? It really depends on your particular situation.

In general, the approach is to work on the condition that is most impairing first. While therapy can address both issues at once, often medication is prescribed for one condition and then the other.


What medications might you be prescribed? Below is a list of some options you might be given:


Stimulants such as Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) may be prescribed for ADHD. Stimulants help to increase brain chemicals that improve focus. However, they can have side effects such as loss of appetite or trouble sleeping.


Nonstimulants such as Strattera (atomoxetine) may also be prescribed for ADHD.


Antidepressants may be prescribed for depression including Wellbutrin (bupropion), which can also help relieve symptoms of ADHD. Antidepressants can take several weeks before you will know if they are working.


Psychotherapy for ADHD aims at improving focus and building self-esteem, while therapy for depression may target identifying and replacing negative thoughts and behaviors (which may also be helpful for ADHD).

In one study of 77 adults with ADHD, those who had received extensive psychotherapyt and were less likely to have ruminative thinking were shown to be more resilient to episodes of depression.

Lifestyle Changes

What can you do on your own to improve your ADHD and depression? The basics are most important: eat healthy meals, exercise regularly (aerobic exercise is important if you have ADHD), and practice good sleep hygiene.

Another good strategy is to prevent yourself from becoming bored if you have ADHD, as this can worsen your mood.

One way to accomplish this is to keep an "interest closet" or another spot in your home where you store activities that you can do when you are feeling bored. Add things like books you want to read, crafts you want to do, podcasts you want to listen to, etc. so that there's never a time that you're at a loss.

Press Play for Advice On Managing Depression

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to find the courage to face depression, featuring Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez. Click below to listen now.

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A Word From Verywell

ADHD and depression tend to overlap, so it's important to consult your doctor if you believe you may have symptoms of either mental health issue. Both need to be treated swiftly to avoid secondary problems down the road; however, the prognosis is good when you receive help tailored to your individual situation.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.