How Executive Dysfunction And Depression Are Related

Updated March 04, 2021

If you have depression or you know someone who does, you're probably curious about just what it could actually mean. You're probably wondering what type of symptoms there are and what they mean for your future. Well, when it comes to executive dysfunction and depression, you're definitely going to want to know a whole lot more. After all, your executive functions are extremely important to keeping you living your life to the fullest. If you're not paying attention to the ways that they can be affected by depression or anything else, you're setting yourself up for problems.

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What Are Executive Functions?

First, let's take a look at what executive functions actually are. These are the skills that you use when you're trying to pay attention, multitask, or remember information. They're responsible for allowing you to plan, organize, strategize, and manage your time better. For most people, these skills start to develop somewhere around two years of age, and by the time you reach 30 years of age, you've pretty well fully developed them. As you can likely tell, each of these skills is going to be extremely important for your quality of life.

What is Executive Dysfunction?

When you have executive dysfunction, it means that you have difficulty actually doing any number of these things. You may have trouble with only one or two different aspects of executive function, or you may have all of them. For those who do have these types of difficulties, it's often called executive function disorder, though this isn't considered an official mental health disorder under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Still, there are ways that executive dysfunction can be treated and ways that you can continue to work toward gaining these skills or improving them.

What About Executive Dysfunction and Depression?

One of the reasons that you may have executive dysfunction isdepression. That's because depression affects a number of areas of the brain, and one of the areas could definitely be the part that controls these skills and responsibilities. If you have damage to this area of the brain, either through injury or a birth defect, or if the area is affected by depression, you could have difficulty developing these skills at all. Or, you may have trouble getting them to the level that they should be. That's why it's important to find out more about where the problems have started.

If you have had executive dysfunction for a long period of time, you may have an injury or some other reason for why you've never been able to accomplish these types of tasks. On the other hand, if the dysfunction is relatively recent and you've been diagnosed with depression, it's entirely possible that the two are linked. In that case, working through your depression may allow you to regain some or all of your executive functions and get back to the life that you want to live with all of the skills you are meant to have.

Do I Have Executive Dysfunction?

You may experience any combination of these in the bullet list below, for example, or you may experience something else entirely. Because every person is different, the ways that you experience executive dysfunction are going to be different as well. Talk to your doctor and a mental health professional if you find yourself experiencing difficulty with any combination of these or other experiences not listedso that you may be able to start working on improvements quickly.


  • Trouble managing your time effectively
  • Difficulty keeping your things organized
  • Continued loss of items
  • Lack of ability to deal with frustration
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty recalling information
  • Lack of ability to monitor emotions and behavior
  • Misplacing items constantly

If you feel like these things describe you and like you're constantly falling behind on things that you used to be able to do, then it's possible that you're being affected by this disorder. Combine that with some of the symptoms of depression that we will discuss in the following sections and you may see drastic improvements if you seek out a mental health professional.

What is Depression?

Depression is more than feeling sad and is chronic and persistent, which negatively affects the way in which you act, think, and feel. There are several different types of depression and many different ways that it can affect you in your life. We'll talk about some of the symptoms here, which you may be experiencing in any combination. To be diagnosed with depression, an individual must exhibit a combination of several of these symptoms that persist for at least two weeks. A mental health professional will be able to make an actual diagnosis and let you know if depression is the most likely reason for the symptoms you're experiencing.

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Increase or decrease in appetite or weight
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Lack of energy
  • Purposeless activities
  • Slowed speech
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Trouble thinking or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death and suicide

As you can tell, some of the symptoms of depression actually overlap with those of executive dysfunction, which is one of the reasons that the two are so closely linked in many ways. Because of the depression and the lack of interest or motivation that goes along with it, it's entirely possible that you could start to experience a type of brain fog that makes it difficult to think.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.

Want To Learn More About Executive Dysfunction And Depression?
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To make a diagnosis, a therapist or mental health professional will also look at a number of different aspects of your life and health conditions to make sure that there is no other reason for the symptoms that you are experiencing. Brain tumors, vitamin deficiencies, and even thyroid problems can result in some of these symptoms. These will be evaluated as possibilities as well before treatment will be started in any form. We'll talk about the combination of therapies and treatments that are commonly used to treat both of these disorders in the next section.

Treating Executive Dysfunction and Depression

If you're looking for treatment, the best thing that you can do is seek out a mental health professional. Therapy is one of the best methods of treatment for both of these disorders, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on your behaviors and the way that your thinking can control them. When paired with medications, this type of therapy has seen tremendous results and can greatly improve the chances of you getting back to the type of life that you want to live again.

With this combination, it is entirely possible that you will start to recognize improvements in your life and in the way that you perform different functions as well. Keep in mind that your physician or primary care physician, working in conjunction with your mental health professional, may prescribe you different types of medications to help treat these disorders. If you decide to take medication, continue to see your therapist and put in the work for the best possible outcome. After all, medication without therapy is usually not successful.

Before signing up for medication though, please consult with your doctor or primary care physician first before considering any medication options.

Finding Your Help

If you're looking for professional help, the first thing you should be looking at are the therapists who are able to treat the disorders that you're currently experiencing. You won't have a formal diagnosis until you talk with a professional, but if you know the type of symptoms you're experiencing, you can get an idea of what you're dealing with and who you're going to want to talk to. From there, you can start narrowing it down even further to who has the experience level and the training that you feel most comfortable with.

Evidence has shown that online therapy has been proven to be slightly better than face-to-face therapy regarding cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT). In a literature review of 17 studies on the effectiveness of online CBT or eCBT when contrasted with traditional therapy, it was found that eCBT was better at reducing the symptoms of depression. It was also noted that eCBT could be less expensive than face-to-face therapy. Online therapy for CBT can also be used effectively for other mental health conditions. People with PTSD, eating disorders, and anxiety have found relief through this type of treatment.


How BetterHelp Can Support You

BetterHelp is one way you can get the online help that you're looking for without having to worry about going to a physical office for your therapy. You'll be able to reach out to a mental health professional who has the expertise and experience in working with people who have depression.You'll have no problem communicating with them from a place where you feel completely comfortable, your own home. No matter where you are or what you're doing, all you're going to need is a mobile device of some kind and an internet connection, and you'll be able to connect to your therapy session from absolutely anywhere. That's definitely going to make it easier and more convenient for you to get in a session, so you can work on managing those symptoms of depression and get back to doing the things you enjoy. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Negin is incredible! She has created a safe space for me to be vulnerable and share my struggles with anxiety, depression, and life in general. I feel that she is a very authentic and will be honest and kind with you about the difficult stuff. So thankful to have been matched with her!”

“She is a wonderful human being, both understanding and insightful. Her expertise is reflected by how she approaches situations presented to her, and she offers concise help in tackling the root of my issues. I highly recommend her to anyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other issues that you may be facing.”

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