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The Impact of Having Both ADHD and Depression

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Low motivation. Zero focus. General disinterest and boredom. Feelings of rejection. Being overwhelmed with stimulation. Irritability. Lost in my own thoughts. These were some of the key symptoms that led to me being diagnosed with depression over 10 years ago. They’re also the same symptoms that led my doctor to diagnose me with ADHD years later. ADHD and depression have a lot of overlap in symptoms, so it can be hard to know what symptoms are caused by what — it’s why it took so long for me to be diagnosed with ADHD because the symptoms were attributed to depression. The symptoms look pretty similar but can be slightly different, and I’ve found it’s important to learn the difference in the root of these symptoms because the way I manage my ADHD is different from the way I manage my depression. It can also impact the medication you take, since ADHD and depression can be treated with different kinds of medication.

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One thing is constant though: I have to consistently be in tune with my mind and body, and what challenges they’re facing. For example, if I’m feeling very bored, with ADHD it’s more likely that I am scatterbrained and jumping from one thing to another — with depression, it’s more of an emptiness and I’m not really doing anything. If I’m feeling sensitive and in a bad mood, with ADHD it’s more temporary and intense — like rejection sensitive dysphoria and triggered by something that caused me to feel bad, whereas depression can come out of nowhere, with no trigger and is more of a consistent low mood. I think of ADHD as a sharp, shooting pain while depression is more of a constant, dull pain.
It’s important to know the difference between these similar feelings because when it’s more caused by ADHD, I need to find ways to calm my mind and perhaps relax more, but with depression I probably need to seek out some social interaction or support. Knowing the cause of the symptoms, rather than just understanding the symptom itself is a key part of managing the overlap between ADHD and depression.

Having ADHD and depression is surprisingly common — it’s estimated that 50 percent of people with ADHD will be treated for depression at some point in their lives. The risk of having depression if you have ADHD is four times that of the general population. It’s also likely that people with untreated and undiagnosed ADHD (like I was for most of my life) could develop “secondary depression,” which is depression caused by another underlying issue. The emotional distress that I experienced with living with ADHD and not knowing it — whether it was feeling like a failure when I couldn’t focus, or finding everything so difficult (especially easy things) — undoubtedly made me more depressed.

So, as someone who deals with both ADHD and depression, here are some tips that have helped me manage both conditions:

1. Recognizing that my ADHD makes things a lot harder for me, and that’s OK.

My depression would always get so much worse if I felt bad about myself, and felt like I wasn’t good enough or trying hard enough. Reassuring myself and giving myself positive reinforcement has helped, because the world often doesn’t give enough encouragement to people with ADHD.

2. Determining the cause of my symptoms.

As I mentioned earlier, knowing the root cause of a particular symptom at any given time helps me find the right coping mechanism.

3. Getting enough sleep.

Insomnia is common for people with ADHD and depression, and I’ve found both conditions get worse when I’m not well rested. I need medication to help me sleep, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Getting a good sleep makes a huge difference.

4. Making routines and sticking to them (but still offering myself grace when I mess up).

Routines are super key for managing ADHD — repetition makes it easier to not forget things and it helps me stay a bit more focused. It’s easy for routines to go out the window when I get more depressed, but breaking routines makes my ADHD worse so I really try to stick to at least some part of my routine, and try not to beat myself up for the parts I can’t stick to.

5. Being kind to myself, and when I can’t be kind, asking other friends to be extra kind to me.

Dealing with ADHD and depression at the same time is hard work. It’s exhausting and confusing, and I often want to give up. The single greatest tip I have for anyone who finds themselves in the same boat, is to be kind to yourself. The world was sadly not built for us, and that can make us feel pretty bad about what we can’t do. You’re still worthy of love, and you’re still worthy of kindness. If you can’t offer it to yourself, find someone who loves you and get them to offer it to you.

Managing two difficult conditions like ADHD and depression can often feel isolating and lonely, which is why having people who understand us, who can be compassionate to us, and love us for all of who we are is so important. It also helps to remember I’m not the only one — learning about how common depression is in people with ADHD made me sad, but it also made me feel less alone. There are so many people who feel just like me — I’m not weird or broken, I’m just a little different, and I’m not the only one. If you deal with ADHD and depression, you’re not alone either. I know how hard you’re trying, and I’m proud of you — especially on the days when it seems impossible and like you can’t get through it. You got this.

Getty image by Jull1491

Originally published: September 27, 2021
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