ADHD And Depression: Is There A Link?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

For those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD, depression is seldom a stranger. As for adult ADHD, a startling number of people with it report feeling depressed sometimes, and a clinical diagnosis is not uncommon. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, adults with ADHD are more likely to have an “anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or other comorbid psychiatric disorder.”

This begs the question: are people with ADHD more inclined to experience depression?

What is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

In brief, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a condition that affects a person's ability to pay attention, control their impulses, sit still, and sometimes manage their behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three main symptoms of ADHD: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Scientists aren't sure what causes ADHD. Still, they believe that a combination of brain chemistry, genetics, and environmental factors, including exposure to toxic chemicals during early childhood, brain injury, and low birth weight, could increase the likelihood of developing it.

Many people with this condition get an ADHD diagnosis in their youth. Suppose you suspect your child may have ADHD. In that case, it's wise to get them evaluated by a specialist who can make a diagnosis after administering a series of cognitive tests and observing the child in various situations.

Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Inattention
  • Impulsiveness
  • Poor planning skills
  • Difficulty managing time
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Forgetfulness

Are you living with ADHD and depression?

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition that affects 17 million adults and 2.7 million children aged 3 to 17 in the United States. It is usually characterized by a loss of interest in activities or a persistently glum or pessimistic mood. It can potentially cause significant impairment in daily life.

When it comes to depression, it is essential to understand that major depression is not the same as feeling unhappy for a couple of days. Those who are momentarily painful can usually still function in their daily lives. Someone who has clinical depression or major depressive disorder might feel too sad to work, pay bills, or do other tasks that are essential to their lives. This depression can be profound, lasting, and go on for days or weeks if left untreated.

Depressive symptoms include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, despair, and hopelessness
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Mood swings, irritability, and anxiety
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Substance abuse

How are depression and ADHD related?

At first glance, it would seem that one of these conditions might not have much to do with the other. If you have depression, you may feel low and not want to engage with the world or anything in it. You could withdraw and struggle to interact with anyone, even your loved ones and closest friends.

When you have ADHD, on the other hand, you may be capable of going out and being sociable. The hardships usually come from a lack of concentration skills. However, the key difference between ADHD and depression lies in their core symptoms: depression mainly involves persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest, while ADHD is characterized by difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Still, Some symptoms of depression overlap with those of ADHD, so it can be hard to tell them apart. Reports suggest that anger management issues and aggression could also be present in people with major depressive disorder and ADHD.

Depression and ADHD don't always happen together, but it is possible for a person to live with both conditions simultaneously, which can have significant clinical implications. When this happens, doctors call them comorbid disorders or co-occurring conditions.

Researchers have developed a consensus-derived diagnostic algorithm to diagnose the comorbidities of ADHD and depression in adults because it can be so challenging, and few tools are available. This idea is further explored in this research published in Postgraduate Medicine.

What can be done about it?

Many people with ADHD may develop depression due to a perception of inadequacy and social challenges. When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, they may find themselves experiencing depression at some point. Since doctors now recognize this, they will likely talk to the parents about the possibility before it manifests. But what preventative action can be taken?


Therapy can help those diagnosed with ADHD to process their emotions and overcome low self-esteem. The condition can quickly isolate one from peers and the rest of the world, which can put someone at higher risk of depression. They might feel different, like something about them sets them apart. However, the CDC has found that behavior therapy is an effective treatment that can improve one's behavior, self-control, and self-esteem. 

Speaking with a licensed therapist can have a positive impact on those diagnosed with ADHD and those who have or have risk factors for depression. With online therapy, individuals can talk to a licensed therapist whenever and wherever they feel comfortable. It also tends to be more affordable than in-person therapy. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh


Many individuals can teach a person diagnosed with ADHD some new techniques to better allow them to concentrate and conduct themselves in social situations.

Having ADHD is not a life sentence. The worst aspects of it can be mitigated when the person with it possesses the tools to think differently. Getting out of one's headspace or changing one's way of thinking can be taught. That's what ADHD coaches try to do. If you're looking for an ADHD coach, try to get a recommendation from your doctor or search the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) resource directory.


Another way of treating ADHD and the possible depression that sometimes goes along with it is with prescription drugs, both stimulant medications and non-stimulant medications.

Stimulants are one family of drugs that are sometimes employed. It might seem counterintuitive to give stimulants to someone already perceived as hyperactive. Still, the name stimulant means that ADHD medications increase the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This, in turn, boosts concentration and reduces hyperactivity and impulsivity.

For individuals with ADHD and clinical depression, antidepressants might be prescribed. Antidepressants can conceivably help with both ADHD symptoms and depression. The idea is to use them to "level out" chemicals in the brain that may be causing an unstable mood and give them a new baseline or equilibrium that will allow them to function better in the world.

With antidepressants, though, and any drugs that a doctor might prescribe in the case of ADHD or depression, a healthcare professional must monitor the situation very carefully. No one knows how each person will react to these drugs' administration. Each person's physiology is different, and what works wonderfully for one person might not work for someone else. A doctor might prescribe a few different combinations of drugs before the right one is discovered to treat ADHD and depression. 

Are you living with ADHD and depression?

Combination therapy for ADHD and depression symptoms

In most cases, ADHD, depression, and the behaviors associated with both can be most effectively held at bay through a combination of drugs and therapy or coaching. It can take a while to land on exactly the right mix. But in time, the individual can land on a combination that will allow them to go about their daily routine and live a healthy life.

Online therapy can help with ADHD and depression

Online therapy is one convenient way to get help with comorbid ADHD and depression, allowing you to meet with a licensed professional from the comfort and convenience of your home for ADHD and depression treatment. With services like BetterHelp, you can be matched quickly with a therapist who is right for your mental health needs. Whether you want individual therapy or family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or want to try something new, help is available.

Additionally, online therapy has been proven to be just as effective in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and many other conditions when compared directly to its traditional counterpart. Because of this, you don’t need to worry about compromising care for convenience.


ADHD and comorbid depression may have symptoms that may overlap and negatively affect a person's life. However, a combination of medications and therapy or coaching has been shown to improve symptoms and help individuals diagnosed with either condition to live productive, fulfilling lives. 

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