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May 2011



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By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression commonly occur together. According to Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD and wrote the book More Attention, Less Deficit: Successful Strategies for Adults with ADHD: “ADHD makes people’s lives harder, so it makes sense that they have more to be depressed about. This is especially true because ADHD difficulties usually persist — it’s not like going through a bad break-up where things get better with time.”

Because ADHD is lifelong, it “robs the person of optimism that things will ever improve, at least before a diagnosis is made and treatment started.”

Below, Tuckman talks about both disorders, which is treated first and what readers can do.

Depression Signs

At first glance, depression and ADHD have a lot in common. They both make it difficult to concentrate, initiate projects or sleep well. They’re also associated with mood changes and irritability. But, according to Tuckman:

“Once you get into the details, they look very different. The biggest difference is that ADHD has been lifelong and pretty much existed across most aspects of the person’s life. Depression comes and goes or the person spent big parts of their life not depressed so the symptoms wouldn’t be present then if they were from the depression.”

Here’s what depression looks like, he said:

“People who are depressed generally don’t enjoy life as much as they used to. They may feel sad or empty or even irritable and angry. They don’t feel like themselves and have more trouble getting going on things, even activities that they would otherwise enjoy. They may sleep more than usual, or less. They may also eat more than usual, or less. They may also find that their concentration and memory don’t feel as strong.”

You’ll find a list of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms here.

Missing ADHD

It’s not uncommon for professionals to diagnose a person with depression but to miss their underlying ADHD — which can happen especially with girls and women, Tuckman said.

“People find what they are looking for and tend to not find what they aren’t looking for. If a clinician doesn’t think about ADHD often, they won’t see it in their patients.”

Which Disorder To Treat First

If “ADHD struggles are driving the depression,” Tuckman said, then he focuses on the ADHD first. This results in a “two-for-one,” he said, because “treating the ADHD improves their depression,” making the person “more effective and feel better about themselves.”

But he’ll focus on the depression, “if the depression is severe enough that it is interfering with their ability to address their ADHD.” He added that: “Most of the time, though, we are treating both simultaneously, at least in therapy. For medication, patients are usually started on something for one condition first, before adding in a second medication.”

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