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ADHD and Depression

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Depression and ADHD are separate disorders, but often overlap; and in combination, they bring on more challenges. It’s helpful to understand each and impact they have on the family.

What is ADHD?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that will continue to exist throughout one’s lifetime. It presents with lagging executive function skills such as emotional regulation, working memory, self awareness, organization and time management. Causes include genetic predisposition, as it runs in families, exposure to toxins like lead in the environment, and developmental problems in the womb. It is important to know that it is not really a disorder of attention as named but rather a deficit of self regulation and interest. In short, ADHD makes it difficult to complete tasks well and on time.

“ADHD is not a disorder of not knowing what to do, but of not doing what you know... “

-Russell Barkley

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life such as one’s health, wellbeing, work performance, and sleep. Common symptoms include crying, poor concentration, binge eating, irritation, and chronic fatigue. There are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain due to genetics or development, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems.

Is there a connection between ADHD and Depression?

Yes, roughly one-fifth to one-half of adults with ADHD have depression. The similarities in symptoms of ADHD and depression can make it difficult to distinguish between the two disorders and complicate treatment plans.

In both ADHD and depression, the challenge seems to be emotional regulation. Both experience big emotions, negative thinking, and rumination. This includes suicidal thoughts and tendencies. The cause or diagnosis is not always clear but treatment is available.

Medications for ADHD are different from those for depression but can be taken in combination if necessary. Both disorders can benefit from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to remove negative thinking that runs in both disorders, but there are other options as well which can be explored.

ADHD, Depression, and families

The diagnosis of ADHD and depression affect the entire family. Parents of children with both often struggle to decipher what their child won’t do versus what they can’t do. If a parent thinks the child’s lagging performance is a function of won’t, they may push the child to reach their “potential”. This push to do more can come across as disapproval and be counterproductive if the reality is that the child just can’t. How is a parent to know the difference?

If it is the parent who suffers with ADHD and depression, the simplest tasks can be impossible. Children are often left confused by their parent’s big emotions and lack of attention. The collateral damage is far reaching.

What can be done?

Oxygen masks must go on the adults first on an airplane. Why? In the end, the adult must come to the aid of the child. Whether it is the child or parent who suffers with depression and ADHD, self care is of the utmost importance. Parents must be available to their child emotionally and physically. A child with this combination is going to need a strong scaffolding of support and consistency. A parent will be part of a team for their child including doctors, teachers, friends, family and others like clergy. It is a lot to manage but there is help for parents as well. Many national organizations offer virtual support groups for parents. Coaching is an excellent way to keep track, set boundaries and problem solve at home. Group therapy for the family is a great way to learn more about what the person who suffers is experiencing and how to help. It is painful to watch anyone struggle with depression. Therapy can help.

Helpful management tips for adults that have ADHD and suffer from depression

  • Develop good habits. Consistency (that is, of predetermined good habits) lifts us up and propels us into motion.

  • Own your agenda by assigning a time to your daily tasks and checking it often. Create a cushion and consider arriving early. Setting up reminders will help, and you will be thrilled with the results.

  • Connect. Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems.

  • Consider diet changes that can counter depression such as complex carbs, antioxidants, protein-rich foods, Mediterranean foods rich in B vitamins, and omega 3’s for clarity.

  • Relaxation techniques like vagus nerve breathing, pilates, scents, slow hot baths and journaling.

  • Plan things to look forward to in the future

How can parents help their kids who suffer?

  • Act quickly. Know the warning signs such as loss of motivation, withdrawal, distractibility, running away from home, changes in sleep, changes in weight, agitation/aggression, and self hate.

  • Find a professional through good referrals if possible. Then check the website and reviews on them.

  • Refer to the management tips for parents above.

  • Remember the relationship. Consider less directing and more positive reinforcement.

  • Listen.

  • Explore ways to help your kids connect with new hobbies or friends.

In conclusion, depression is not uncommon for those with ADHD. But be on the lookout for signs that ADHD may not be the only challenge and get help if you suspect you or someone you love may struggle with depression.

Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

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