ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that affects the mental functioning and organization of the person who suffers. Researchers have found that these changes to the individual’s ability to organize their thoughts and control their impulses is related to brain chemicals that are responsible for the communication of these functions.
Several of these brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, are dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These have also been implicated in other mood disorders such as depression and to a greater degree, Parkinson’s disease.
The correlation between ADHD and depression in adults is approximately one in four. In other words one out of every four adults who has ADHD also suffers from depression. In other studies it has been noted that children who suffer from ADHD or ADD are also at increased risk for development of depression. And it is also important to note that in many children the diagnosis of depression may be so intertwined with ADHD that the diagnosis is missed.
More recent research has also led scientists to draw the conclusion that the depression that is experienced by children who have ADHD is not because of the demoralization they suffer related to their disease but rather is a separate and distinct condition that requires medication and therapy.
In the results of one study which followed 123 children and young adults for four years the researchers found that one of the predictive values for the development of depression was difficulty with interpersonal skills. They did not find that students who had poor grades or difficulty in school were more at risk, only those who had difficulty managing peer relationships. (1)
Children and adults who suffer from ADHD and depression have core symptoms which are similar. Symptoms of depression include loss of interest or pleasure, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or too much sleeping, fatigue or loss of energy and a loss of ability to think or concentrate.
For the diagnosis of depression to be determined a physician will compare your symptoms against an algorithm that helps assign diagnosis of mental disorders. The diagnosis of depression goes beyond feelings of ‘sadness’ or feeling ‘blue’ that all of us get on occasion.
These symptoms associated with depression are present for several week period and can be associated with thoughts or threats of suicide.
Depression in children and adults with ADHD can be effectively treated with psychological intervention and medications. In fact recent research also suggests that those people who are treated with psychological intervention alone have better success rates than those who are treated with either medication alone or with therapy and medication.
The important fact to take away from this study is that parents and spouses/families should be sensitive to the fact that those individuals with ADHD can also suffer the symptoms of depression. Families shouldn’t just assume that the symptoms are related only to the ADHD.
If you or a family member has ADHD and you suspect that there may be a co-morbid diagnosis of depression you should consult with your physician. With early diagnosis and intervention the rate of success for treatment is increased.
(1) University of Chicago: Children with ADHD at Increased Risk for Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
Journal of Child Adolescent Psychopharmacology: Does Pharmacotherapy for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Predict Risk of Later Major Depression
University of Maryland: For ADHD Children, Mother’s Depression and Early Parenting Predict Conduct Problems
Psychiatry: Major Depression With ADHD