Insight into Adult ADHD and Depression

Adult ADHD and Depression

It is estimated by researchers that the incidence of major depression among adults with ADHD is 3 times what it is in the normal population. For dysthymia, a milder form of depression, it is 8 times more common. Clearly there seems to be a connection between adult ADHD and depression. This connection has been noticed in multigenerational studies, suggesting a genetic link. The prevalence of ADHD in children of adults with recurring depression is higher than in the general population.

There is a higher rate of major depressive disorder in relatives of children with ADHD. Mood disorders are highly heritable and ADHD also has a higher heritability with estimates as high as 80 percent.

Sometimes depression arises due to chronic frustration with untreated or poorly managed ADHD. This is called "secondary depression", because it is second to the ADHD. Some people, not realizing they have a neuropsychiatric condition, have learned to believe they are lazy or stupid and suffer from low self-esteem.

Coping with Depression and Adult ADHD

Edward Hallowell, MD, a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD, and John Ratey, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, are the authors of a paper called "Adult ADHD: 50 Tips on Mood Management." Hallowell and Ratey give the following recommendations for mood management:

  • Have structured "blow-out" time by setting aside time each week to do something you want to do. It could be turning up the stereo and blasting yourself with music or any activity where you can let loose in a safe way.
  • Find a way to recharge your batteries. Watch TV or mediate, do something calming and don’t feel guilty about "wasting time."
  • Choose "good" helpful addictions like exercise or healthy eating if you’re going to be addicted to something.
  • Understand your own mood changes and learn how to manage them. Don’t look for the reasons, but focus on tolerating a bad mood, knowing it will pass, or change your setting to a new activity to make it pass sooner.
  • Make plans to deal with the "inevitable blahs". Have a list of friends you can call or a punching bag nearby if there’s energy with it. Learn how to give yourself pep talks. Realize these are the ADHD blues and they will pass.
  • Expect depression after succeeding at something. Now that the challenge is over, the ADHD person usually misses the stimulation of the chase.
  • Use "time-outs" like children do. Get away from the situation and calm down.
  • Learn how to advocate for yourself. ADHD adults are used to being criticized and being on the defensive, so learn to play offense.
  • Exercise regularly and vigorously. Exercise calms the body and rests the mind and is one of the best treatments for ADHD.
  • Make a good choice in a significant other. You will thrive or flounder depending on your choice of mate.
  • Find and join groups where you are liked, appreciated, understood and accepted. It makes all the difference.


There are many treatments for ADHD, some with drugs, others more natural. Standard drug treatments include the stimulating drugs Ritalin and Adderall and the non-stimulating Strattera.

Non-drug treatments include essential fatty acid supplementation, sometimes in the form of fish oil. People with ADHD have a deficiency in essential fatty acids. There are herbs such as Gingko, Ginseng, and Wild Oats which are helpful.

Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can all have calming effects of someone with ADHD. Psychotherapy is useful in working through some of the emotions that come up.

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