Is It Depression or ADHD?

Is it Depression? Is it ADHD? Is it both?

Some people who get diagnosed with ADHD do so because they’ve been undergoing therapy and antidepressant medication for Depression or Dysthymia (chronic low-level depression, a condition that is very often missed) for years with little improvement. They finally start asking about ADHD and see someone who is actually trained in diagnosing and treating ADHD (unfortunately, far too few medical professionals), get a diagnosis of ADHD.

Then they start managing their ADHD by ADHD medication, adult ADHD coaching or therapy, exercise, lifestyle changes, greater self-awareness and participation in Adult ADD support groups, and the grey fog of depression starts to lift.

Eventually, there’s no more depression, just ADHD.

If you look at the symptoms of ADHD and you don’t find some way to manage them relatively effectively, it’s not too hard to see that they can easily lead to other conditions like Depression, Dysthymia or Anxiety Disorders.

I personally know 15 + I stopped counting at 20, adults with ADHD who underwent therapy for depression for a decade and even suggested to their therapist that they might have ADHD and that possibility was quickly dismissed. Later they found someone who understood ADHD, got diagnosed and sought help and now are no longer depressed. I’ve unfortunately heard and read far too many other similar stories.

If you’re depressed and or have an anxiety disorder, your doctor will usually prescribe antidepressants. They will boost your serotonin, which will boost your mood, but boosting your serotonin will reduce your level of dopamine, which will reduce your ability to focus which will make your ADHD symptoms worse.

You make your ADHD symptoms worse, they will often lead to more depression and or anxiety. More depression and anxiety will, of course, make your ADHD symptoms worse and you have a vicious cycle than many of us ADDers are doomed to suffer needlessly for years

You could also think you might have ADHD and it’s just depression or dysthymia since some of the symptoms are similar.

You could have ADHD and experience a divorce, death in the family, lose your job and develop depression from those events, unrelated to ADHD.

This is why a good diagnosis by a professional that understand ADHD and Depression is crucial. You don’t want to waste years of your life because you’re treating a secondary symptom of the problem and not the root cause

21 thoughts on “Is It Depression or ADHD?”

  1. You are SO RIGHT. I am so tired of struggling in my life, and I bounce to and fro doctors and related government officials about how to help me! I may even have two or three things to be diagnosed with, but the lack of education/help about ADD and other disorders in BC is very shocking and heart breaking… I’m now 26 and my life has been going no where for a while, and my parents are worried, and I’m just miserable…. I suffer a silent torment every day, that I can’t do anything right, I can’t even focus on any one thing and get it completed. I can’t find success or happiness in ANY form. Some of these government workers will tell me “well it doesn’t look like you’re depressed”, and one of them – I kid you not – was matching my ADD symptoms to what looked like an OLD book on disorders. It seemed to focus on only the Hyperactive type, but I don’t have hyperactivity…. But MANY OTHER symptoms…

    All I want is the right help. I don’t believe in suicide, yet I notice how many times the pain becomes unbearable and my life feels meaningless. I know there will be enough challenges in treating my symptoms anyway, but getting diagnosed is a huge search on its own that SOMEHOW I must first accomplish.

    To be fair, I haven’t really done my fair amount of search online either, and now I’m going to take it seriously, and that’s how I found this page today. So thank you VERY much for your information. I am going to strive to search for any help I can get (and contact you further), because frankly, I’m not sure how much more I can take of this. I really truely wish there would be more plentiful people certified to diagnose and treat less common disabilities here. Every person suffering from a condition should NOT have to, and its really surprising in a country like Canada.

  2. You’re right Nadine, there should be more people able to help ADDers.

    If enough people demand services from their MLA this will change. If they don’t it probably won’t. Unfortunately people with other health conditions ask for services and get them (to a certain extent), ADDers usually don’t bother asking and consequently they don’t get them.

    you might want to also contact the 24 hour crisis line

    and information referral services

    I have a list of people known to diagnose and treat ADD in vancouver, email me if you want the list.

    good luck

  3. Hello Pete,

    I have just found this site, I have been praying to find just what you wrote. I have been struggling with this all my life I believe. I’ve been in therapy for years with no real improvement in the areas I am reading about that those with ADD suffer from . I am now under a plie of projects , so cluttered and having to buy five of all my tools that get lost in other peoples homes that it finally came to my attention. LOL… that I might have whats called ADD,

    I think the therapists think my lack of focus is because Im depressed or from anziety. Im so tired just thinking about this.

    I mean every day I go to work and some tool I didn’t even know i left will be placed in eyesight by one of my clients. Guess I could pull them into a therapy session for confirmation of my disorder.Maybe THEN I’ll be believed. I guess I could take a photo of the inside of my apartment and that might convince them. I live alone so know one sees how i am.( thank goodness}
    My parents died many years ago so i have no way to ask them how I was . I have some select memories that point to adhd.

    I expressed my concerns to a therapist last fall and asked to be tested, The woman that tested me said the tests showed I did not have the childhood form of adhd. Thats as far as I got .I got very upset because I know this is what I have, They keep focusing on things i had treatment for in the past and say i have a personality disorder instead. Im so frutrated.

    I really need to talk with others to find out if what Im experiencing is what others are. I have questions like one is ,

    1. Do you find yourself repeating yourself in speech and writting

    The only support group in my state is run by a therapist for his patients only .
    The other meets every third thursday of the month and I have to travel an hour to get there, I’m looking foward to that meeting in October.

    This site Pete is the first help I have found that looks hopeful , Thank you in advance of my reading it all.


  4. I recently got tested for adhd and was devistated with the results. I could garuntee they would come back positive! Well they came back with a high chance of add, however the tester stated that because of my history with depression I would have to see a phyciatrist for further testing! Not the answer I wanted to hear! I’ve been to several different types of therapies over the last 12 years, different doctors (none of whom could speak english… should they not have to pass an oral test to work in this country?) So now I’m on a wait list to see another phyciatrist (who’ll hopefully speak english) and due to the patient doctor load in my province i’ll be waiting a while! I’m tired of waiting I want this over and done with so I can move on with my life. This has kept me from living for so many years. Its held me back for so long, I’ve known for years that its not depression that I suffer from its something bigger! It wasn’t till my son got diagnosed with ADHD that my mother said to me hey maybe you have it! I started looking into it and here I am!
    This article has been an eye opener! I frimly believe that the symptoms of derpession that I have experienced have been due to the ADD (I’m not hyperactive)! Looking back into my high school years I’m certain that this is what’s wrong with me! Doctors really need to be more educated on adult add and adhd its not just a condition that effects kids!

  5. My parents never knew I had ADHD, and I knew something was up when I kept forgetting things, not focusing in class which caused me to learn at slower rate. So finally when I got done with college, I just went to a psychiatrist that was on my insurance and got diagnosed. After that then my dad told me of some his relatives have had it and he thinks he has to but doesn’t care to get treatment. I almost just accepted who I was and went on with life but I’m glad to know that I have it, it brings closure to my life long struggle. Taking Vyvance right now, anyone else have feedback on Vyvanse?

  6. I need opinions!
    I have always felt like something was wrong, I just didn’t know what it was. I have been taking Citalopram for a little over a year and it has helped my depression, but I still feel like there is something holding me back. I believe it is ADD. When I look at my childhood I made good grades in school (it was never very hard), honors classes, etc. I would miss weeks at a time because I would throw temper tantrums to be able to stay home. When I got to college I made it through a few semesters, but I eventually quit going and dropped out. I had a fantastic job as an abstractor and became bored with that too. I am in incredible debt because of poor decisions and shopping sprees, and now I work at a convenience store for minimum wage. I clean toilets and change trash, but I’m a lot happier because I don’t have to sit still all day. I know I am soooo much more capable, but I don’t have the patience to finish anything. Every time I get in an office I freak out!
    What do you think? ADD or not? Am I just having touble coming to terms with life or do I need help with ADD?

  7. John,

    I ready your story and I did the exact same thing! Vyvance really makes a difference in my life and totally increases my productivity at work! After taking it, I felt like a new person as it solved most of my adult ADHD issues. Please note that its not 100 percent fix but it helps with 90 percent of my adult adhd and my wife has notice how it helps alot as well.


  8. Lynn,

    That sounds alot like me. I went 28 years without being diagnosed and not taking mediation =) I didn’t know I had it until I was 28, but I’m glad cus I didn’t use it as a crutch or an excuse to fail in life. I graduated and got my bachelors. When I started my job I strugggled with my daily tasks and to sit down in a chair but after taking Vyvanse, it changed my life and now I’m able to sit down at 4 hours at a time and do my software engineer tasks. Before I took the medicine I wasn’t very productive and felt terrible about it.

  9. Hey guys,

    I have recently been feeling pretty depressed and have constantly had a sense of low self esteem (I’m pretty sure both of these issues have affected me for most of my life), despite the fact that I am a handsome/fit/healthy young guy who has no problem attracting females/girlfriends.

    I have performed well in school until this point in time, cruising through with pure “natural ability”, and finished high school with high enough marks to study law and I am currently in my second year of study.

    However, lately the depressed state has become a real problem for me, and I find myself not knowing what to do half of the time. This feeling led me to further research on the topic, and I have stumbled across the symptoms for ADD (I believe the inattentive type describes how I feel best). I constantly forget things (conversations mainly) and have a hard time concentrating on most things (I think that concentrating on anything that isn’t an attractive female as pointless) and procrastinate ALL THE TIME. My days seem to go by in a blur and I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life. I feel that studying law isn’t for me, which is strange because it is something I have wanted to do since I was young and I had such strong convictions about my future until recently, where it now seems to have been thrown to the wind. I am just so confused and lost, maybe it is just depression though.

    My therapist says these are common symptoms of depression and from completing checklists, I would probably agree. The main thing that worries me though is the inability to get things done and organise my day-to-day tasks, which has been something I have struggled with all my life. I have spoken with my father and he says he has these issues too. My mother also has anxiety issues, and is very highly strung.

    Sorry for the long post, I am just at a loss for what to do and I feel that the symptoms of ADD answer a lot of my un-answered questions (especially about hyper focus, and constantly having 10 different things running at any point in time, never finishing any of them, although I just assumed all my life this was human nature… Haha).

    After all this, the questions I am constantly ruminating over are:
    1. Am I depressed?
    2. Do I have ADD?
    3. Am I going crazy? I feel sometimes the world seems to get on top of me and I have an overwhelming feeling of imminent doom, although my therapist tells me this is a common symptom of anxiety, it is extremely frightening nonetheless.

    This last question is of great concern to me, as I constantly suffer from bouts of “surrealism”, as I would describe it, where everything just seems fake and as if I’m living a waking dream. Weeks seem to pass without anything happening.

    I need answers! I am a 19yr old Australian and it’s affecting my study, as I just can’t seem to get motivated to do anything!

    The only plus side to this is that I have been a lot more creative than I had been previously; poems, film scripts and artwork. I feel this is where my future lies, but with great expectations placed on me by my parents to finish my degree and a fear of what is uncertain, I can’t see it eventuating.

    Thanks, I know it has been a long post, but it has sure helped me get a few of my negative thoughts out there on my search for answers.


  10. cathymoore

    Help, I’m married to a A type personality type man, perfectionast, I am so ADD, hate myself as I am not able to live up to expectations and it is destroying us. I have spent my life not been able to live up to expectations. As a result I am on heavy doses of antidepressants. Is life worth it??

  11. Life is always worth it but sometime it maybe hard to see.

    but fyi if you’re just on anti depressants and not on stimulant meds it will boost your sereotonin but reduce your dopamine which will help your depression, but may make your adhd worse ie harder to concentrate and focus. so I’d suggest asking your doctor about meds to deal with the adhd meds as well as anti depressants.

    would suggest talking to a crisis line in the short term and also getting therapy for yourself at minimum and maybe couples counselling to dealt with the depression and adhd. Ideally the counsellor should know adhd. to find one who knows adhd see my list of south african adhd support groups

  12. Hi Courtney,

    glad you got diagnosed, far too many men and women with adhd suffer needless by not being diagnosed and treated. Good that Vyvanse works for you but with adhd meds, like other meds, what works for person A may not work for person B, we’re biochemically unique. Congrats for getting out of the darkness into the light

  13. All,

    My story sounds very similar to Rory’s above, except I’m 43 and have suffered my whole life. I finally sought help last year for depression and started taking Pristiq. It helped a little, but definitely not enough. 3 weeks ago, I asked for ADD medication and was prescribed Vyvanse, just 20mg. OMG! Have you seen the movie “Limitless”? That’s what it felt like. 3 weeks later and I’m weening off of the Pristiq as I suspect much of my depression was caused by my ADD symptoms. I have finally found peace, clarity, and focus. I wish I had found this 30 years ago. I’m fairly “successful” by most definitions, but it has all been such a struggle: work, relationships, and an always present self-loathing for being “lazy” and unfocused. This pill has shown me the light. I still have the occasional day where I’m a little lazy or melancholy, but those days feel “normal” and I empathize with why. Before I’d just be down or apathetic for no reason.

    Again, it’s only been 3 weeks, so my data points are limited, but these last 3 weeks are the first time I’ve truly felt comfortable in my own skin. That’s a message I felt worth sharing.

  14. I suffered for years with depression. Finally I was dianosed with ADD about 4 months ago. After getting on the meds I felt better right away. But my life is such a mess and so out of control that I get overwhelmed. I feel my depression coming back and that scares me. I have no insurance and have been unable to get help from anyone who knows about ADD. I’m at the end of my rope.

  15. Too bad Allison, you might want to try group adhd coaching, i don’t do it but other coaches do, less individual time, but less expensive go to click on find a coach, then use keyword group. or try your closest adhd support group if you are really distressed call your local crisis line.

  16. Thank you for this article; I think it has made me determine that I need to talk to my doctors because I’m a 40 year old woman that has been struggling with depression and anxiety for over 20 years and I don’t seem to be getting any better. About a year ago my therapist diagnosed me with ADHD and after reading I think I’ve been diagnosed incorrectly all these years. Being on my meds for ADHD has made me feel so much better and I noticed that my manic episodes are not nearly as a bad. So all I really want to say is thank for making me understand that it is possible to be misdiagnosed with this. I also have major anxiety and having all three sometimes I really feel like I’m crazy and it doesn’t help my family thinks all my meds is what is making me nuts and unbearable at times. But I feel I just need to try the right combination. Along with these I also have PTSD and now I’m starting to think I should talk to my doctor about going off all and trying the medical marijuana. Does anyone have any experience with that?

  17. You’re welcome Jennifer but if you have manic episodes you might want to get screened for bipolar. if you use pot the adhd meds won’t work and your working memory, executive functions and motivation all 3 impaired with ADHD will get worse. Suggest getting EMDR for PTSD and cognitive behavioural therapy for the depression & anxiety, and talk to doc about meds for depression and anxiety, meds are useful but they are not a complete solution.

    For ADHD see my post top ten ways to manage ADHD

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