Do I Have Depression? Untangled: Signs of ADHD and Depression

Emotional dysregulation, insomnia, and difficulties focusing are common symptoms of both ADHD and depression. How can you determine the reason when symptoms coexist? This expert describes how symptoms that are similar yet manifest differently in depression and ADHD.


1. An Intricate Link Between ADHD and Depression
Depression can strike a person with ADHD for a number of reasons:
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  • Biological: Depression can occasionally have a brain-based cause that is entirely unrelated to ADHD. Similar to ADHD, depression can run in certain people’s families.
  • Environmental: Depression can sometimes be caused by events that are either directly related to symptoms of ADHD (such as the death of a loved one) or indirectly related to symptoms of ADHD (such as unemployment resulting from tardiness caused by poor executive functioning). 

When depression manifests itself, it needs to be treated like any other disorder, regardless of whether ADHD is linked to it or not.


The symptoms of both ADHD and depression are often made worse when a person has both diseases together, often to a greater extent than in cases of either disorder alone. Being an ADHD sufferer is linked to:

  •  increased hospital admissions as a result of depression
  •  increased frequency of depressive episodes
  •  increased risk of suicide and an increase in self-harm attempts

Your doctor must distinguish between the symptoms of depression and ADHD in order to properly diagnose you with depression.


2. Differentiating Between ADHD and Depression: How Each Manifests Its Symptoms

Depression and Anger Management in ADHD: The depression or anger management is quite situation-and context-specific. For instance, a someone with ADHD who had a job that was a bad fit for them would probably feel depressed or agitated at work but joyful and relieved at home or with friends.


Depression-Related melancholy and irritation: Depression is characterized by a persistent melancholy or irritation that permeates every part of a person’s life. A depressed individual is prone to exhibit melancholy and irritability at work, at home, and among friends.


3. Symptom: Decline in Activity Interest

Loss of Interest in Activities: Individuals with ADHD may hyper focus on and become fully absorbed in a particular activity, but they may soon get bored or tired of it and seek out something else. Thus, an individual with ADHD may become engrossed in painting, but once the initial excitement wears off, they may find painting tedious and would rather to try ice skating.


Loss of Interest in Activities Related to Depression: People who are depressed find little joy in doing things they had long been passionate about. Therefore, someone who has always enjoyed painting may discover that they are no longer interested in or excited by the idea of painting, nor are they by the possibility of engaging in any other activity.


4. Symptom: Notable Modification in Appetite

Change in Appetite Associated with ADHD: Short-term changes in eating or appetite are typical. People with ADHD may neglect to eat because they are hyperfocused on their work or a hobby, or they may ignore their body’s signals because their external stimuli are stimulating them excessively. But if that individual plans their mealtime and there is food available, they will eat. Binge eaters may also be impulsivity-challenged people with ADHD.


Change in Appetite with Depression: Over a longer length of time, depression can cause weight shifts of at least 20 pounds in either direction. People describe a constant state of not wanting food. They have nothing in their bodies that makes them desire to eat, not even when there is food directly in front of them. On occasion, however, the reverse is true—depressed individuals tend to overeat in an attempt to numb their melancholy or hopelessness.


5. Symptom: Difficulty falling asleep or excessive sleep

ADHD and Sleep Issues: People with ADHD are particularly vulnerable to sleep issues and disorders. These problems are usually long-lasting and frequently start in childhood. For instance, a person with ADHD may experience difficulties with racing thoughts and an inattentive brain that finds it difficult to settle at night.


Sleep Problems with Depression: People with depression frequently experience episodic periods of excessive or insufficient sleep, even if they do not typically have sleep problems. When having a depressive episode, a person may sleep for as little as one or two hours at night or, on the other hand, for as much as sixteen or seventeen hours and still feel exhausted.


6. Symptom: Inability to Focus
ADHD Concentration Issues:
One of the main signs of ADHD is difficulty focusing. Individuals with ADHD find it difficult to focus, get sidetracked, and pay attention, especially to things that do not interest them.


Depression and Concentration Issues: Another common sign of depression is having trouble focusing. Examine your past in an attempt to determine whether the issue is due to depression, ADHD, or both. ADHD may be the cause if you have always had trouble focusing at work or in school. However, if you have always been an excellent student and never had trouble focusing in math class, but all of a sudden you find it difficult to focus on completing even basic problems, that could be a sign of depression.


7. Symptoms include exhaustion and low energy.
ADHD-related fatigue:
Many individuals with ADHD, particularly those with the inattentive subtype, report experiencing constant fatigue. To make up for impaired executive function and the other difficulties that come with ADHD, a lot of effort and resources must be mobilized. You would be exhausted after working a 15-hour day; individuals with ADHD frequently believe that their whole waking day is demanding work. Alternatively, when faced with an uninteresting work or activity that they lack the motivation to complete, people with ADHD can experience a lack of energy.


Depression and Fatigue: Depression is frequently accompanied by a severe feeling of exhaustion. It permeates everything, even in persons who have never experienced fatigue before and even when they are engaged in their favorite activity. A common cognitive slowdown that depressed people describe is as though their minds are composed of molasses. This slowdown, in contrast to ADHD, can occur episodically and in cycles, perhaps every three or four weeks.


8. Symptom: A sense of worthlessness and guilt
Feelings of Worthlessness in People with ADHD:
A person with ADHD may never feel worthless if they have a growth attitude, the correct support system, and the ideal surroundings. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not have this knowledge and support, and as a result, their ADHD symptoms might occasionally lead them down unsuccessful pathways. They could have feelings of worthlessness or ineffectiveness in these situations.


Feelings of Worthlessness Associated with Depression: A common feature of depression is a pervasive sensation of worthlessness accompanied by an inappropriate sense of guilt. This shame is a hallmark of depression and is not typically observed in individuals with ADHD alone. People who are depressed frequently have feelings of guilt for events that are out of their control, almost as though they believe they are a bad influence on the world.


9. Sign: Suicidal thoughts
Suicidal or death-related thoughts are a very serious issue that has to be addressed. Recurrent thoughts of suicide, regardless of their cause or relationship to ADHD symptoms, are a strong indicator of depression and need to be treated right away.


It is also crucial to remember that psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and delusional thinking, can coexist with severe sadness. Many people are embarrassed by this and scared to share their stories, but it is crucial to discuss this with your doctor. It is treatable.

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