ADHD and Depression: Why it Matters

Thank you to Gayla Wilson who contributed to this post.

Earlier we did a series on ADHD and anxiety.   You may recall that the rate of anxiety disorders is much higher in folks with ADHD than in the general public.  Are you surprised to hear that there is also a higher rate of depression among people who have ADHD than the general population?   ADHD often comes with a host of other issues such as learning disabilities, anxiety and depression.  Perhaps depression is the most life-threatening condition of all.  This post is the first of a series that explores living with ADHD and depression.

What are the known causes for depression?

There is no single cause of depression.  Depression happens because of a combination of things including:

Genes – some types of depression tend to run in families.  Genes are the “blueprints” for who we are, and we inherit them from our parents.  Scientists are looking for the specific genes that may be involved in depression.

Brain chemistry and structure – when chemicals in the brain are not at the right levels, depression can occur.  These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, help cells in the brain communicate with each other.  By looking at pictures of the brain, scientists can also see that the structure of the brain in people who have depression looks different than in people who do not have depression.  Scientists are working to figure out why these differences occur.

Environmental and psychological factors – trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, and other stressors can trigger depression.  Scientists are working to figure out why depression occurs in some people but not in others with the same or similar experiences.  They are also studying why some people recover quickly from depression and others do not.

Why do people with ADHD have depression at higher rates than the general population?

Unfortunately science hasn’t cracked the code of why some people get depressed and others do not.  However, Aaron Beckr (who is known as the father of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) recently gave us a clue when he said  “brain scans have found that in depressed people the prefrontal cortex, known as the seat of rational thought, tends to be underactive.”  If you’ve read much about ADHD, you’ll know that this  area of the brain that is also underactive in ADHD and executive function disorders.

Research shows that people with ADHD have a higher incidence of depression due to the many obstacles, disappointments, perceived failures, and lack of support and understanding that often comes with living with ADHD.  The typical person with ADHD has an uphill battle facing the many myths and misconceptions surrounding the diagnosis.  The years of hearing “if only you would try harder” can take its toll and low self esteem is common.

All teens — especially those with ADHD — should be tested for depression

The Journal of Pediatrics reported that the government-appointed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all teens should be tested for depression by their primary care physician.  Nearly 2 million U.S. teens are affected by depression, but most suffer undiagnosed.  When you consider that a higher than average number of those kids have ADHD, it is a compelling reason to be sure your teen is screened for depression at their annual exam.

For more information on depression:

And watch in coming weeks for Part 2 in the series which will explore types of depression.

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