Unlocking ADHD writer Megan Tan shares about her personal experience with ADHD and co-morbid depression in adults. She also shares her tips for spotting the difference and managing the symptoms.
ADHDers may have a higher predisposition to mood disorders such as depression (known as Major Depressive Disorder)1. Such disorders are usually multifactorial. Contributing factors include brain chemistry, genetics and the environment. ADHDers are more likely to receive criticism2, struggle with socialising and have issues with emotional regulation3. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that some of them develop co-morbid disorders (including depression) . You may be curious about ADHD and depression in adults. You may wonder, ” What does depression look like in adults with ADHD? How do we differentiate between the two? How do I cope with ADHD and depression at the same time?”
This is my personal perspective on ADHD and depression in adults, and I hope that it will help readers.
So, what is depression and what does it look like in ADHD adults?
Depression is a mood disorder4. It is characterised by having a low mood for a period of two weeks or more. In adults, depression can present as withdrawal from social activities, difficulty with maintaining hygiene, heightened irritability, over-eating or under-eating, inadequate or excessive sleeping and slowed speech. For people who menstruate, depression can lead to changes in the menstrual cycle5.
Depressed individuals may find themselves experiencing feelings of worthlessness or guilt. They may lack the energy to perform daily tasks. Depressed people lose interest in previously enjoyable activities, and frequently harbour thoughts of self-harm or suicide. A nationwide study showed that one in seven people in Singapore will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime, with depression being the most common disorder6. Additionally, women are more likely to suffer from depression than men.
However, it must be noted that mental health conditions can present in a myriad of ways, and that many invisible illnesses like depression can easily go unnoticed. Thus, it is important to check on those whom you suspect may be suffering from mental health issues. It is crucial to fully understand each individual’s situation.
ADHD vs Depression
AHD and depression often overlap. Certain symptoms such as sleeping issues or difficulty concentrating can also be associated with ADHD. As such, it is important to distinguish between the two so that one can receive proper care. Having lived with major depressive disorder for a few years, here are the ways in which I distinguish between depression and ADHD:
Lack of Interest
There is a difference between coming out of a hyperfixation and having no interests whatsoever. When I come out of a hyperfixation, there is often a gradual loss of interest in the topic before I finally drop it. With depression, the loss of interest is very sudden. Furthermore, it is impossible to find fulfillment from previous hyperfixations or hobbies.
ADHDers can cycle through many emotions and feelings throughout the day. With this in mind, how can one tell when they are depressed? In my experience, depression is a constant, low mood throughout the day. The sensation is similar to having a stone lodged in my chest and being unable to dislodge it. Checking on your somatic sensations can also help with determining your mood (e.g. feeling pain in the chest when experiencing emotional pain).
Lack of Energy
This is usually a telltale sign of depression for me. It often shows up as a desire to stay in bed for the whole day, a lack of energy to engage in basic tasks or the lack of a desire to do anything besides sleep. I also find that a lack of motivation often accompanies this loss of energy. On the other hand, with ADHD, that motivation is simply channeled elsewhere (e.g. towards more interesting activities)
Coping with Depression
The first step is acknowledging that you need help. Reaching out to a trusted person- be that person be a friend or a loved one- is very important. Asking for help can be overwhelming and daunting, and you may feel weak or afraid. These feelings are completely valid. However, asking for help is never a sign of weakness. Reaching out for support is essential for recovery.
Try therapy. Therapy has been shown to help treat and manage not just depression, but also ADHD. Mental health professionals often use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat both ADHD and depression in adults. As someone who has undergone CBT, I find it very useful in helping me to manage and challenge my depressive thoughts.
Consider medication. While medication is not for everyone, do not automatically turn a blind eye to it. Medication for mental health often gets a bad rep, but it can greatly help with daily tasks. I have found that a combination of medication and therapy work well for me. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed for depression. SSRIs help to regulate the chemicals in the brain by slowing the re-uptake of serotonin (the chemical responsible for mood, among other things) so that it stays in the brain a little longer.
Depression can feel overwhelming and everlasting. However, ADHD and depression in adults can be managed with proper care, treatment and support. If you feel this way, know that you are not alone and that there are many resources available to help you on your journey.
If you are looking for articles for depression in children, check out this article by Unlocking ADHD!
- Coexisting conditions. CHADD. (2018, December 3). Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://chadd.org/about-adhd/coexisting-conditions/
- William Dodson, M. D. (2022, April 26). How ADHD ignites rejection sensitive dysphoria. ADDitude. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.additudemag.com/rejection-sensitive-dysphoria-and-adhd/
- Thomas E. Brown, P. D., & Editors, A. D. D. (2021, December 13). 7 truths about ADHD and intense emotions. ADDitude. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-emotional-regulation-video/
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, February 3). Depression (major depressive disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007
- Schimelpfening, N. (2021, January 5). How your emotional health can affect your menstrual cycle. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/can-depression-make-your-period-late-1066767
- Latest nationwide study shows 1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. (2018, December 11). Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.imh.com.sg/Newsroom/News-Releases/Documents/SMHS%202016_Media%20Release_FINAL_web%20upload.pdf
- Holland, K. (2022, April 27). Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression: How does it work? Healthline. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/cognitive-behavioral-therapy
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, September 17). The most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825