ADHD and Depression: Does One Cause the Other?

Health Writer

ADHD and depression would seem to be the exact opposites. ADHD is known for hyperactivity, excitability and impulsive behavior. Depression is known for sad moods and lethargy. Even so, there are a few symptoms that are similar in both.

If you are experiencing symptoms like these, where does a doctor start to find the right diagnosis? If you are having trouble concentrating, you may think you have ADHD but that isn't necessarily the case. In a recent article on CNN, Dr. Charles Raison answered a reader's question about the similarities between these two conditions. In part, he said:

"Did you always have trouble concentrating and remembering things? If you can clearly answer yes to this, then you may have ADHD that preceded your depression...

On the other hand, if your problems with concentration and memory only began with the start of your depression, then they are almost certainly depressive symptoms that will resolve when your depression is fully treated."

Sometimes, a secondary diagnosis is not realized until a patient complains (rightfully so) that a treatment isn't working. Your doctor should then go back and see you have been misdiagnosed or if you may have comorbid, or coexisting, conditions.

Approximately one out of every four adults with ADHD also have depression but because of the similarity of some of the symptoms, both conditions may not be taken into consideration. If you have been diagnosed with either ADHD or depression and aren't sure whether you should talk with your doctor about both conditions, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Depression in patients with ADHD was previously assumed to caused by the inability to cope with or manage symptoms of ADHD. It is now known that both conditions can appear simultaneously and if a patient has both conditions, treatment should include both.
  • Medications for ADHD have a calming effect on individuals with ADHD. Someone who is not as energetic as they had been before medication can seem depressed.
  • Treatments for ADHD and depression can be given together.
  • Sometimes a doctor will treat depression first. This helps by letting the doctor know if trouble concentrating has been caused by the depression.
  • Symptoms of ADHD begin in childhood. If you do not recall having difficulty focusing or concentrating throughout your life, your current symptoms may be caused by something else.
  • Situational depression is when something in your life is causing you to be depressed. This is normally temporary but can also be treated. If your feelings of depression are chronic, talk to your doctor about how you are feeling.

Both ADHD and depression are medical conditions. You can't diagnose or treat these conditions on your own. But you can help your doctor by providing as much information as possible. Think about which symptoms are most troublesome for you and make a list. For example

  • Forgetful
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Not able to get anything accomplished

Once you have your list, make a chart and rate each item on a daily basis. Also list what medications, if any you took each day and what foods and drinks you consumed (some foods can interfere with how ADHD medications work.) This information helps your doctor see what areas are causing you the most concern and how your medication is helping.

For more information on depression: