ADHD and Depression: Exploring the Relationships Stopgap

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 21, 2024

Living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can already feel like a hard mode challenge. When depression - unfortunately quite a common comorbidity for ADHD - pops up, it might feel like “developers” of the “game” are playing cruel tricks on you. 

So, what’s up with that? Why do ADHD and depression often walk hand in hand, what does this funky blend entail, and how to sort it out and get help? 

All of that - and more - is in today’s article.

So, strap in because today we are going to learn: 

  • The connection between ADHD and depression.
  • How ADHD symptoms can cause “secondary depression.” 
  • How having both ADHD and depression can put a damper on your relationships and why does it matter.
  • Similarities and differences between the two conditions.
  • All about treatment options and coping strategies.

Ready? Let’s dig in! 

[Can ADHD cause Depression?] Can ADHD Cause Depression and Anxiety? 

There is no precise connection, per se, as ADHD and depression are distinct conditions that often exist. Adults with ADHD are three times more likely to develop depression than those without. 

So, why does this happen?

It all has to do with the ADHD symptoms. Untreated ADHD can make ADHDers frustrated and disappointed about their quality of life. This frustration, in turn, can lead to depression.

[ADHD Impact on Depression] The Role of ADHD Symptoms in Depression

What do we know about ADHD symptoms?

Well, quite a lot! So much that it would take us an entire article to write about those in full, which we have here

But to give a short refresher, we can characterize ADHD through the three main symptoms: impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty focusing

Depending on age, gender, and character traits, some symptoms may be more apparent than others. For instance, ADHD in women tends to have wildly different characteristics from male ADHD. Whereas men are “poster boys for ADHD stereotypes” as they are more restless and hyper, ADHD symptoms in women can be more subtle and restrained. 

Regardless of its “flavor,” one thing remains true - ADHD can make you feel inadequate and a failure which is a recipe for developing symptoms of depression. 

For example, struggles with focus and attention can cause problems in academic or professional life. You might get bad grades or fail to meet your KPIs, making you feel worthless thanks to our results-driven society (thanks, Henry Ford). 

It's like a domino effect, where the struggles associated with ADHD can trigger a cascade of emotional responses, culminating in depression.

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Dopamine Deficiency

Understanding the link between apparent symptoms of ADHD and depression seems easy. But what about symptoms that we don’t talk about as often? 

I’m talking about emotional dysregulation and dopamine deficiency

It’s important to remember that ADHD isn’t just a character trait but a condition rooted in biology. ADHDers have reduced dopamine function1. In simple terms, getting those dopamines is hard when you have ADHD. 

ADHDers sometimes need to work extra hard to feel rewarded and fulfilled for completing this or that activity. Yet, because most aren’t aware of this concept, ADHDers tend to compare themselves to their neurotypical peers, not other ADHDers. So when you see your friends doing “adult” stuff and feeling fine (because their dopamine pathways aren’t borked), yet you feel only disappointment and exasperation, it becomes easy to see why so many unrightfully declare themselves failures. 

And what about emotional dysregulation? Indeed, people with ADHD can also process emotions more intensely than non-affected people. On the one hand, it’s good because it means that pure joy is so much…joyer than normal.

But it also means that negative emotions are amplified, so heartbreak, rejection, and insults - for ADHDer, these can hit like a ton of bricks. So, maintaining and creating relationships can feel like a struggle that is sometimes not worth it, a defensive mechanism against pain and hurt. 

And if ADHDer has already started developing depression - which doesn’t give any favors for building healthy relationships either - it can get even messier.

Because of the significant role that interpersonal relationships play in our lives, we should look closely at how ADHD and depression affect them. Only through such understanding can we realize the issue’s significance and encourage those affected to seek treatment. 

[Impact on Relationships] Impact on Relationships

So, I want to talk about relationships a bit more in-depth because of one known fact: having positive relationships (both romantic and platonic) acts as a protective factor against the development of mental health issues, including depression3

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fulfilling relationships and depression, mind4. But not having those certainly doesn’t help. 

And it’s not just about some abstract, esoteric concepts like “life fulfillment” I’m talking about but simple things like an ability to confide in someone and a strong support network that can pick you up when you’re feeling down. 

Unfortunately, because the universe loves irony, a combination of ADHD and depression makes it difficult to create and maintain meaningful relationships

So, let’s examine how both conditions make making friends a hurdle and what to do about it. 

Impact of ADHD on Relationships

Impulsivity and Communication

Impulsivity leads to hasty reactions and interruptions during conversations. It can also make you say things that you end up regretting later. Say a partner or a friend upset you or hurt your feelings. Instead of letting those feelings simmer and having a grown-up conversation, a person with ADHD might have this irresistible urge to say the meanest thing ever. 

And you regret it. And you feel like a dork seconds after the words exit your mouth. But the damage has already been done, and if it’s a regular occurrence, some people might not have the resilience to endure this rollercoaster for long. 

Inattention and Forgetfulness

Inattention, another key symptom of ADHD, can be misconstrued as disinterest or neglect in relationships. If you're often forgetful or easily distracted, it might come across as if you aren’t interested in the relationship. Coupled with a warped perception of time, a.k.a “time blindness”5, people with ADHD may spend weeks or months not replying or reaching out to their loved ones. 

But that doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about others! It’s just that one day they might have forgotten to reply, and the other, it feels like not much time has passed. But the outcome matters more than intent, so people will still feel hurt and neglected. 

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

RSD is what kids would call a “deep cut” as far as the ADHD symptoms go. Rejection sensitive dysphoria is an ADHD symptom that makes an individual feel strong, intense emotional pain (that often fringes on being physical) as a response to the real or perceived rejection. 

It makes the concept of relationships so painful that some ADHDers choose to avoid them outright because they can’t even bear the thought of getting hurt. 

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Impact of Depression on Relationships

Depression, too, can have a profound impact on relationships. The symptoms of depression, such as withdrawal, mood fluctuations, and low energy, can create challenges in maintaining healthy relationships.

Withdrawal and Isolation

Depression has a way of making people retreat. Even the most social individuals might want to be alone, avoid gatherings, and detach from those they cherish. It's a paradox: you pull away when they might benefit most from support. This distancing is rarely intentional but can leave friends and family puzzled, wondering how to bridge the widening gap.

Mood Fluctuations

Consistency is something we often seek in relationships. Yet, depression introduces an element of unpredictability. Some days might seem almost 'normal,' filled with laughter and routine. But then, unexpectedly, a wave of sadness or apathy might crash in. For partners, friends, and family, it becomes a balancing act of understanding these shifts and figuring out how best to offer support.

Low Energy and Motivation

It's more than just feeling 'tired'; it's a profound exhaustion that can make even the simplest tasks feel mountainous. It’s easy to mistake this decline in participation for lack of interest or commitment, but it's often just a manifestation of the depressive state. But relationships might suffer because of it nonetheless. 

What’s the conclusion? 

The blend of ADHD and depression symptoms can make creating and maintaining healthy and thriving relationships difficult. Coupled with existing stigma about these two conditions, a person with both may also be hesitant to open up and talk sincerely about their concerns with existing friends and relatives, making this combination quite isolating. 

Navigating Relationships with ADHD and Depression

Managing a relationship can be complicated, even more so when ADHD and depression are part of the equation. But with the right approach, these challenges become surmountable.

Open Communication

Transparency is vital. When navigating the intricacies of ADHD and depression, regularly sharing your experiences helps paint a clearer picture for those around you. It's about speaking openly, understanding your needs, and being receptive to your partner's or loved one's needs.

Understanding and Empathy

Grasping the nuances of ADHD and depression is a two-sided endeavor. For the individual, it's about recognizing how these conditions play out in daily interactions. For partners and friends, it's about empathizing and adapting to these challenges, ensuring a mutual support system.

Professional Support

Involving mental health professionals, such as therapists or counselors, can be incredibly beneficial in navigating relationship challenges. They can provide strategies for communication, help manage symptoms, and provide a safe space to express feelings and concerns.

[ADHD vs. Depression] Similarities and Differences: ADHD and Depression

While ADHD and depression are different, they share some common symptoms. Nonetheless, there are key differences that can help distinguish between the two. Understanding these similarities and differences can be crucial in getting the right diagnosis and treatment.

Shared Symptoms: The Common Ground of ADHD and Depression

When you lay the symptoms of ADHD and depression side by side, some striking similarities emerge. Both conditions can make concentration challenging, turning a routine task into a Herculean effort. The restless energy that keeps you pacing the floor? Or the irritability that can unexpectedly flare up? Both ADHD and depression can claim responsibility. 

Living with these symptoms can feel like constantly fighting an uphill battle. Yet, it's worth noting: just because you recognize these symptoms in yourself doesn't automatically mean you're dealing with ADHD and depression. The human mind is complex, and these overlapping symptoms underscore the need for a well-rounded assessment by a professional. Think of it as a puzzle; each symptom is a piece, and only with all the pieces can you see the full picture.

Key Differences: Telling ADHD and Depression Apart

For all their similarities, ADHD and depression are distinct conditions with their unique challenges. 

Take ADHD, for example. Here, impulsivity takes the spotlight. Someone with ADHD might impulsively buy something they don't need or blurt out a thought without considering its impact. The restless energy that is so prevalent with ADHD also means that when it comes to doing something, it’s more so about the paralysis of indecisiveness. 

Depression, meanwhile, has a different texture. Instead of an overflow of restless energy, it might feel like someone's dimmed the lights on your enthusiasm. Activities you once looked forward to might now feel like chores. An overwhelming sadness can cast a shadow over your days, and doubts about your worth can become uninvited guests in your thoughts. 

Understanding these distinctions isn't about labeling or boxing oneself in. It's about clarity. With clarity comes better support, tailored strategies, and a clearer path forward.

[Treatment for ADHD & Depression] Treatment Options for ADHD and Depression

ADHD and depression is a really curious combination when discussing treatment.

There is such a thing as “secondary depression,” essentially caused by ADHD symptoms left unchecked. But it’s also true that ADHD and depression can develop independently from one another. Remember, it’s not just about “being sad.” 

So understanding these peculiarities and the order of treatment is something that you should discuss with your healthcare provider. 


Finding the best medication for anxiety, depression, and ADHD can be a process of trial and error. 

Stimulant medications, typically first in line for ADHD, act like cerebral tune-ups, honing focus and attention and reigning in impulses. Meanwhile, antidepressants aim to recalibrate mood-related brain chemicals. I’m really simplifying here but, hey, it’s not a science blog.

So the tricky part here is that these medications can be capricious even by themselves. It’s not uncommon for someone with depression, for example, to go through multiple anti-depressants until they find one that works for them. 

If you are already taking something else for ADHD, finding the best medication for ADHD and depression can take a while. So, don’t forget to mention these two conditions to your doc. 


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be incredibly beneficial for individuals dealing with ADHD and depression. Consider psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), as a mirror. It offers reflections on how thoughts and behaviors intertwine with feelings. CBT, in particular, equips individuals with tools to replace negative thought loops with more constructive narratives.

[Coping Strategies for ADHD & Depression] Coping Strategies for Managing ADHD and Depression

Living with ADHD and depression can be challenging, but some strategies can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These strategies are not a replacement for professional treatment but can complement your treatment plan and provide additional support.

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle changes can significantly impact managing ADHD and depression symptoms. 

Sleep is particularly important. ADHD and depression can disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms. Establish a regular sleep schedule and create a restful environment to improve sleep quality.

Diet and exercise also play a crucial role. Regular physical activity can boost your mood, improve concentration, and reduce feelings of anxiety. A balanced diet can provide the nutrients your brain needs to function properly. Try to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your diet.

Mindfulness Practices

These aren't just buzzwords. Engaging in practices like meditation or yoga can be grounding. They hone focus, dial down impulsivity, and instill a serene calm. It's about being present, feeling each breath, and listening to each thought without judgment.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. You can practice mindfulness in many ways, such as meditation, yoga, or simply taking a few moments each day to focus on your breath.

Support Systems

Having a strong support system is crucial when managing ADHD and depression. Leverage therapists for guidance, lean on support groups for shared experiences, and rely on close ones for emotional and practical backup.

Support groups, both in-person and online, can provide a safe space to share experiences, learn from others, and receive encouragement. Therapists can provide guidance and help you develop effective coping strategies. Friends and family can provide emotional support and help with practical aspects, such as reminding you to take medication or assisting with organizational tasks.

[Numo: ADHD Companion App] Numo App: ADHD Support System in Your Pocket

And speaking of support systems and relationships. 

While we all would love to be solitary gremlins, we can’t deny that we are social creatures. We crave meaningful connections and bonds with people that will understand and inspire us. 

In my personal experience, living with ADHD can sometimes make those things complicated. I am not saying you can’t have good friends, lovers, and family if you have ADHD, depression, or both. 

I guess I’m trying to say that we have experiences and feelings that others cannot understand unless they have lived through them. And I will say with confidence that ADHD is one of those things. 

Sure, now that the mental health talk is all the rage, people might get it more, but it will never compete with the ability to share your concerns with those going through the same things.

And that’s why we have created Numo, a companion and community app for ADHDers. 

So what makes it worth your time? 

Well, it has all these gizmos you’d expect, like:

  • ADHD Planner: ADHD planner is like normal planners (duh) but with a few magic tricks to ensure that you will actually use it.
  • Noise Generator: research and anecdotal evidence suggest that listening to noise can help ADHDers feel more focused and relaxed. So, we included it just in case it works 🤓
  • Knowledge Repository: these two very important sounding words mean that we share short readings, useful tips, and coping strategies to coax ADHD into submission. 😌

Now, for the main event: our squads and tribes

We understand the importance of bouncing your ideas off someone who truly gets it. And when it comes to ADHD or depression, no one is better than a fellow “enjoyer.” 

So if you want to find comfort, share victories or failures, or even just chat about your favorite pet peeves of living with ADHD - you’re welcome! We’ve got memes! 🐈

[Conclusion] Conclusion

Living with any, er, 🌶️spicy🌶️ condition can feel isolated and suffocating at times. 

As an ADHDer, you have to explain to people that you can’t jUsT fOcUs. If you also have depression, I guess you’ve heard plenty of tales about how “just drinking more water and exercising” should set your chemical imbalances straight. 

And I don't want to throw shade or blame people who don’t get it. It is what it is. 

But that doesn’t mean that this predicament should be the end of things. You deserve to be heard and understood and not be shunned for your often uncomfortable thoughts. So this is why Numo is a thing. To have a safe space to talk about and understand your condition better. And we’d be very happy to have you here 😌

P.S. Still, don’t forget all other important things like therapy, practicing open communication, and taking your meds (if you have a prescription) 🧐 We’re just a tiny but very friendly app. 

1. Postgrad Med. Low Dopamine Function in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Should Genotyping Signify Early Diagnosis in Children? 
2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders. Understanding deficient emotional self-regulation in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a controlled study
3. Frontiers in Psychology. Family functioning and adolescent depression: A moderated mediation model of self-esteem and peer relationships.
4. Frontiers in Psychology. Meaningful Relationships in Community and Clinical Samples: Their Importance for Mental Health.
5. Medial Science Monitor. Clinical Implications of the Perception of Time in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Review.
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