Is it Depression or ADHD? You Could Have Both

by | Jun 24, 2022 | ADHD, Articles, Depression

Both Depression and Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are very common
in our population. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 2021) shows statistics that the
prevalence of the current adult population in the United States with ADHD is 4.4%; for adults
with depression in the US, 8.4% of adults in 2020 had at least one major depressive episode.
Furthermore, there is "…reporting prevalence rates of depression in individuals with ADHD
ranging from 18.6% [ 37 ] to 53.3% [ 4 ]. Similarly, studies have reported comorbid ADHD in
individuals with depression at rates of 9% to 16% [ 69 ], with a mean rate of 7.8% [ 16 ] (Katzman et al., 2017).

Depression and ADHD are known as co-morbid conditions. The Encyclopedia Britannica
defines comorbidity as “a disease or condition that coexists with but often is independent of
another disease or condition” (Horn). It can be confusing for the patient to be faced with
problems that both conditions bring, and how to go about seeking help and treatment.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental and psychiatric disorder characterized by a persistent feeling of
sadness, loss of interest, and hopelessness. Other symptoms may include disturbances in
appetite, sleep and difficulties focusing and/or carrying out daily activities. There are many different types of depression, including Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Persistent Depressive Disorder. (Torres, 2020.). All types of depression negatively impact a person’s quality of life, self-esteem, and behavioral patterns.

What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?

ADHD is a mental disorder that includes symptoms of difficulty focusing/paying attention,
impulsivity, and hyperactivity. A person with ADHD often has trouble focusing on school, work
or other tasks. Another type of ADHD is Attention Deficit Disorder Inattentive Type, which
includes less hyperactive traits but more difficulty focusing. A person with ADD-Inattentive
Type maybe someone who daydreams more and “spaces out” as opposed to someone who has
trouble keeping still. There is also a combination type of ADHD which includes both
hyperactivity and inattention. All types can interfere with a person’s ability to carry out daily
tasks and make life more difficult. People with ADHD also suffer with lower self-esteem and
are at higher risk of struggling with depression.

How are depression and ADHD diagnosed?

Both depression and ADHD are diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals, and require psychiatric assessment and evaluation. Psychiatrists typically diagnose depression as they are specialized in mental illnesses, although other non-psychiatric medical doctors and advanced practitioners (such as physician assistants or nurse practitioners) can diagnose depression based on a patient’s presentation of symptoms.
The practitioner may also prescribe specific tests to rule out other medical conditions, such as viruses, hypothyroidism, central nervous system tumors, head trauma, multiple sclerosis, stroke, syphilis, and various types of cancer (Fulghum Bruce, 2020).

These illnesses can cause symptoms
that are often associated with depression, such as fatigue, mood swings, lethargy, loss of interest, and changes in cognition. It is also important for the provider to do a proper assessment of patient’s medical history, current medications, and lifestyle habits, in order to accurately diagnose depression and other mental illnesses.

Diagnoses of ADHD also includes a thorough assessment of medical history, medications,
and lifestyle behaviors. However, diagnosing ADHD takes a bit more time than the process for
diagnosing depression. Cognitive and behavioral tests are usually administered by a licensed
professional who is specialized in understanding ADHD. These tests maybe questionnaires
regarding a person’s behavior, or there maybe tasks that the person must perform, and a
professional evaluates how the person did and if whether or not they had specific problems
performing these tasks. There are also many challenges that go along with identifying and
diagnosing ADHD. According to L. Silver (2020), “Too often, doctors diagnose ADHD without considering all of the symptoms and other conditions that may cause them.” Similarly to
diagnosing depression, there are many underlying issues that can affect the presentation of
symptoms when assessing and diagnosing ADHD.

Neurological Similarities

Although depression and ADHD have different presentations and diagnoses methods, there
is a connection between them. Since they are both mental disorders, they are both affected by an
imbalance of chemical messengers in the brain, called neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a key
neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, sleep and emotions (Rowe, 2021). An insufficient amount of serotonin in the brain has been linked to depression, and medication for depression increases the amount of serotonin in the brain.

People with ADHD also have a deficiency of serotonin and can benefit from medication
that is used to treat depression. In addition to serotonin deficiency, people with ADHD are
deficient in dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Dopamine releases in response to the
body’s consumption of pleasurable activities such as eating, playing a game or listening to music
(Rowe, 2021). Epinephrine and norepinephrine work together to respond to the body’s “fight,
flight or freeze” mechanism, which allows humans to act appropriately when faced with stress.
An imbalance of epinephrine and norepinephrine in the body’s system can cause symptoms
of restlessness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and problems with focusing. People with depression
and ADHD alike have an imbalance of these neurotransmitters, so it’s no surprise that many
people have a diagnoses of both.

Medications and Treatment for ADHD and Depression

The most common type of medication used to treat both ADHD and depression is
Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). This type of medication works to
increase the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Providers commonly
prescribe SNRIs such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) or venlafaxine (Effexor XR), and there are many new drugs available if these are not effective (Malka, 2021).

In addition to medication treatment, psychotherapy is also beneficial to people who carry both diagnoses. Licensed therapists often work with the patient to build his or her own self-esteem, as well as working through negative thoughts and behaviors (Cuncic, 2020).



It is evident that ADHD and depression are very much related, and it is also important to
understand how one disorder can cause another. For instance, “…ADHD can lead to depression
when people have a hard time with their symptoms. Children may have trouble getting along in
school or with playmates, or adults may have issues at work. That can lead to deep feelings of
hopelessness and other signs of depression,” (Smith, 2021). ADHD can affect a person’s ability
to perform at the level that others expect them to, causing them to have feelings of low self-
esteem. These feelings of low self-worth can cause a person to feel hopeless, and at worst,

Although ADHD and depression can effect a person’s quality of life, there are treatment
options for both, and licensed mental health professionals can work with their patients closely to
improve symptoms and overcome struggles. It is important for patients to seek help if there are
any concerns with ADHD, depression, or both.


~ Emily Barton


Emily is a writer and artist living in northern Arizona with her husband and 5 year old twins. She has worked as a psychiatric nurse and has a passion for wellness and mental health.


Cuncic, A. (2020). The Relationship Between ADHD and Depression. Very Well Mind.
Dodson, W. (2022). The ADHD-Depression Link: Symptom Parallels and Distinctions.
ADDitude Magazine.

Fulghum Bruce, D. (2020). Depression Diagnosis. WebMD.
Horn, S. Comorbidity (Medicine). Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Katzman, M.A., et al. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a
dimensional approach. BMC Psychiatry.

Malka, T. (2021). SNRIs: What Are They, Uses, Side Effects & More. KHealth.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Mayo Clinic.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
National Institute of Mental Health.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Major Depression. National Institute of Mental

Rowe, S. (2021). Neurotransmitters Involved in ADHD. PsychCentral.

Silver, L. (2020). 3 Truly Terrible (and Common) Ways to Diagnose ADHD. ADDitude

Silver, L. (2022). ADHD Neuroscience 101. ADDitude Magazine.

Smith, M. (2021). The Link Between ADHD and Depression. WebMD.

Torres, F. (2020). What is Depression? American Psychiatric Association.

more related articles

Hope for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Depression is a common and often debilitating mood disorder that affects millions. It is a significant global public health problem, and in the United States, 8.4% of adults and 17% of adolescents had at least one major depressive episode in 2020, with many of these...

Toxic Masculinity: Causing depression in men

“Man up!” “Boys don’t cry!” “Don’t be such a girl!” Sound familiar?  These are just a few of the toxically masculine insults that are proliferating within our current culture and society.  Men experience these types of sentiments daily. What’s worse, is so...

Suicide: The Other Pandemic

For the majority of us, September marks the start of Autumn. A long-awaited season bringing brisk air, warm apple cider, and the beautiful turning of leaves. But we mustn’t forget. It is also a month dedicated to the cause of suicide awareness and prevention, hence,...

How To Support a Loved One Going Through Depression

With over 17 million American adults suffering from major depressive disorder (1), it’s not unlikely that you may know someone who is currently living with this condition. Although professional treatment is invaluable in helping depressed individuals recuperate and...

Bipolar 1 Vs Bipolar 2, What’s the Difference?

Bipolar disorder is a severe chronic mental illness that affects millions of Americans today. It is a complex disease with various symptoms that can cause a multitude of issues for those that live with it. What makes bipolar disorder even more complicated is the fact...

Why Are Women More Susceptible To Depression?

Extensive research has revealed that one in eight women develop depression at some point in their lives, which is twice the rate of cases compared to men. (1) But why is that? What makes women more vulnerable to this condition? Before explaining the significance of...

Too Close to Home: Filipino Suicide and Depression

Many Asian Americans, especially Filipino Americans, struggle with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and suicide. In fact, young Filipina women experience greater suicide ideation (45.6%) compared to other minorities (Javier et. al 2018). However, despite...

Antidepressants: How Does It Treat Depression?

A Word on Pill Shaming             There are a number of reasons that prevent people from seeking, and ultimately receiving mental healthcare. Clearly, structural barriers contribute to these cases (i.e. some tangible lack of access to medicine). More subtle but no...

The Neuroscience of Depression

What is Depression?  One of the world’s leading causes of disability, depression is a mental illness that is frequently experienced with symptoms of dejected moods, disinterest, excessive self-criticism, and many others. Given the pervasiveness of depression as an...

How To Talk To Someone Struggling With Depression

There are many symptoms of depression, including loss of energy, loss of appetite, negative thoughts of death or self-harm, lack of motivation in school and at work, weight loss or gain, difficulty sleeping, feelings of worthlessness, negative mood, irrational...

Why is anxiety so paralyzing?

“Why is anxiety so paralyzing?” If there is such a thing as various degrees of literal, I would say there should be a spectrum to define how deeply a life has been interrupted, paused, and frozen still. In my experience, it can be so physically paralyzing you would...

4 Lesser Known (But Effective) Psychotherapies For Anxiety

What if I told you, anxiety was an epidemic. In fact, according to NAMI, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder.” Most people are treated with Cognitive...

3 Powerful Ways To Stop Anxiety Now

Let’s Get Started. Anxiety affects everyone on planet Earth, everywhere from San Jose, California to San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s a part of being alive. It’s part of the human experience. But, it doesn't have to be. At least, not to the extent it plagues most...

How to Cope with Anxiety During Covid-19

We are all living in a critical time right now. Whether we are one of the hundreds of thousands affected with COVID-19, a loved one of someone affected, a health professional at the front lines, or like the majority, at home or working an essential job, doing the most...

How Sleep Deprivation Can Increase Your Anxiety

Anxiety is a pervasive problem that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. People try everything from pharmaceutical remedies to therapy, natural remedies, supplements, meditation, and more. Some find relief from their anxiety, but others continue to struggle, no...

The Psychology of Addiction

  Addiction is described as a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. An addiction can...

Everything Can Be Addictive: Part 1

Blog Title: “Addicted” Means Everything After the death of my older brother who died from overdose to guaifenesin, also known as Mucinex, I was shocked and appalled to see how many people were uneducated as to what an addiction is, including the authorities and...

Rehab, Prison, or Death: Why Rehab Doesn’t Always Work

When you think of rehab, you probably think of those lavish centers advertised on day-time television or the late and great Amy Winehouse’s single Rehab, where she testifies she’ll never go back and there’s nothing she has to gain from sitting in therapy for 10 weeks....

Which is Better? Luxury Sober Living vs Government Funded Homes

Sober living homes are used for people who want to maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs. It can be difficult to return to a home environment that is not drug and alcohol free. Sober livings create a supportive place for recovering addicts to live during their...

What is a Panic Attack?

What is a panic attack? How long do they last? Are they scary? A panic attack is psychological and is an overreaction of your adrenal system. A panic attack can happen within a moment’s notice. They occur because there is a sense of danger and your mind and body start...

How Does Attention and Imagery Ability Relate to Emotion?

It seems evident that the depth that individuals feel and emotionally respond toward stimuli ebbs and flows. Consider, for example, how a person experiences deep elation and joy when listening to their favorite song yet later experiences a dulled affective response...

Mental Health IS physical Health, Exercise Boosts both!

Mental Health IS health. I’ve always said that, because it’s the truth. We can’t separate the two. Just like physical health IS health, mental health is health. I could actually argue that mental health might be even more so, since every single function in our body...

Mental Health Disparities in the LGBTQI+ Community

Among the many health disparities, a glaring one is the higher rate of mental health disorders in people who identify as part of the LGBTQI+ community. Widespread social and political discrimination have caused disproportionately high rates of poverty, homelessness,...

May- Mental Health Awareness Month Multidimensional Awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Which means that there is a lot of extra focus on mental health, mental illness, and breaking the stigma surrounding these two very important topics. We use that word a lot- “awareness”, but so many people don’t fully understand...

Hope for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Depression is a common and often debilitating mood disorder that affects millions. It is a significant global public health problem, and in the United States, 8.4% of adults and 17% of adolescents had at least one major depressive episode in 2020, with many of these...

Toxic Masculinity: Causing depression in men

“Man up!” “Boys don’t cry!” “Don’t be such a girl!” Sound familiar?  These are just a few of the toxically masculine insults that are proliferating within our current culture and society.  Men experience these types of sentiments daily. What’s worse, is so...

“Self Love” in the East VS west

“Self Love” has become one of the catchiest concepts being thrown around in Western society, a terminology seemingly present now everywhere we look; on billboards, all across our social media feeds, in meditation practices and therapy practices. It is now a popular...

Suicide: The Other Pandemic

For the majority of us, September marks the start of Autumn. A long-awaited season bringing brisk air, warm apple cider, and the beautiful turning of leaves. But we mustn’t forget. It is also a month dedicated to the cause of suicide awareness and prevention, hence,...

Somatization and Asking for Help: How Asian Populations Respond to Psychological Stress

The intricate mechanisms of the body alone, are quite remarkable; but once we add the functionalities of the mind to the mix, the body often succumbs to the mind’s agency in decision- making, be it conscious or sub-conscious. Although quite awesome and intricate to...

Getting Comfortable Outside of Your Comfort Zone

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or self-doubt, you’ve likely struggled with stepping outside of your comfort zone. It makes sense - comfort zones lack variability - they are familiar, they are controllable, they are, well, comfortable. While we all deserve...