Understanding the link between ADHD, anxiety and depression
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly found alongside other psychiatric disorders in adults. Two conditions that commonly coexist with ADHD are anxiety and depression (major depressive disorder). Healthcare professionals refer to them as comorbid conditions.
In addition to anxiety and depression coexisting in people with ADHD, ADHD can also sometimes be confused with anxiety or depression because these conditions have overlapping symptoms.
ADHD is a well-recognized condition in children, but it can also occur in adults. ADHD in adults can appear differently to what it does in children. Hyperactivity in a child can appear as restlessness in an adult, for example, which can be a symptom of all three of these conditions.
Difficulty controlling or regulating emotional responses (emotional dysregulation) has also been recognized as a symptom of ADHD in adults, which may be mistaken for the symptom of a mood disorder.
Understanding that ADHD, anxiety and depression are linked can help get the right diagnosis and treatment.
What are ADHD, anxiety and depression?
|Neurodevelopmental disorder||ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the brain. It is associated with inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.|
|Anxiety disorder||Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders that includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobia-related disorders. These disorders are accompanied by a wide range of symptoms including feeling restless and on-edge, having difficulty concentrating, and feeling worried and irritable.|
|Mood disorder||Depression is a mood disorder that has a negative impact on the way a person thinks, feels and acts. Depression is characterized by a range of well-known symptoms including feeling down and not enjoying activities that were once enjoyable. Depression can also make people feel restless and make it difficult to concentrate.|
Genetics play a role in the development of ADHD, anxiety and depression - all three conditions tend to run in families. ADHD and certain psychiatric disorders are also thought to affect similar areas of the brain.
How are ADHD and depression connected?
- ADHD can mimic depression
- Depression can occur at the same time as ADHD, but develop independently
- Depression can be caused by ADHD
ADHD and depression share some of the same symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell the two conditions apart. Difficulty focusing or concentrating and restlessness, for example, can be symptoms of both conditions. Sleep disorders and mood changes can also be signs of both conditions.
The confusing overlap in symptoms can result in some people visiting their healthcare provider thinking they have depression when their symptoms are actually caused by ADHD.
About 30 percent of people with ADHD will also develop depression at some point in their lives. Depression can occur independently of ADHD, but in some cases it is thought to be caused by it.
The symptoms of ADHD can also cause depression in some people. ADHD can make a person feel overwhelmed, especially if they feel restless and are struggling to stay focused and organized. This can lead to them experiencing feelings of guilt, sadness, irritability and helplessness and cause them to have low self-confidence.
How are ADHD and anxiety connected?
- ADHD can mimic anxiety
- Anxiety can occur at the same time as ADHD, but develop independently
- Anxiety can be caused by ADHD
ADHD and anxiety also share some of the same symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell the two conditions apart. Restlessness and difficulty relaxing, as well as difficult focusing or concentrating can be symptoms of both anxiety and ADHD.
About 50 percent of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. Like with depression, anxiety can develop alongside ADHD or it can be caused by ADHD. ADHD can cause anxiety, for example, when risk-taking behaviors lead to poor outcomes, such as financial problems, problems at work or relationship issues. The impulsiveness associated with ADHD can also lead to negative outcomes that can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety.
Other conditions are also linked to ADHD
In addition to anxiety and depression, other disorders are also linked to ADHD such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Alcohol abuse or dependence
- Drug abuse or dependence
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Eating disorders
Why is it important to know about the links between ADHD, anxiety and depression
ADHD is thought to be underdiagnosed in adults. Getting a diagnosis and treatment for ADHD is more complicated when symptoms of anxiety and depression are present.
ADHD can coexist alongside anxiety and depression, or in some instances it can cause these conditions to develop. In other cases, the symptoms of ADHD can simply be confused with those of anxiety or depression, when those conditions aren’t actually present.
Having ADHD and another of these conditions can make the symptoms of each one worse, especially if one of the conditions goes untreated. Leaving ADHD untreated puts people at greater risk of poor outcomes and is associated with a greater burden on society.
ADHD impacts quality of life, affecting a person’s ability to find a job and keep it, as well as maintain relationships.
A range of treatment options including medications and therapy can help. Visit your healthcare provider and have them conduct a thorough assessment of your symptoms to get the right diagnosis and treatment if you think you have ADHD, anxiety or depression.
Early diagnosis and treatment of ADHD may help to prevent depression, anxiety and other psychiatric illnesses. Recognition and treatment of ADHD and comorbid conditions can also lead to improved social functioning, workplace performance, parenting skills and more.
When ADHD coexists with other conditions your healthcare provider may focus on treating the condition that is having the biggest impact on you - causing the most impairment - first.
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