Can ADHD Cause Depression and Anxiety

woman man child stressed face expression because of ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition commonly diagnosed in both children and adults. Its hallmark symptoms include impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty concentrating. Over the years, mental health professionals have observed a significant overlap between ADHD and other mental health conditions, particularly anxiety and depression. But can ADHD cause depression and anxiety?

The Interplay Between ADHD and Depression

ADHD affects multiple areas of a person’s life, from school and work to relationships. Some ADHD-related struggles, such as challenges in completing tasks or maintaining social relationships, can lead to feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness. This can pave the way for developing depression. Depression in this context might manifest with symptoms like inappropriate guilt, persistent sadness, and social isolation.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and ADHD:

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication revealed a notable link between ADHD and Major Depression. Adults with ADHD symptoms were shown to have elevated chances of experiencing an episode of major depression.

Emotional Dysregulation:

A significant aspect of ADHD is emotional dysregulation. This can lead to extreme emotional responses, which can amplify feelings of sadness or hopelessness, characteristic of depression.

The Connection Between ADHD and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders encompass a range of conditions, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. ADHD and anxiety symptoms can sometimes intertwine, making it a challenge for accurate diagnosis.

Constant Worry and ADHD:

Individuals with ADHD often grapple with anxious thoughts, particularly when they’re faced with tasks that require sustained attention. This nervousness related to performance can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

Overlapping Symptoms:

Difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and restlessness can be symptomatic of both ADHD and anxiety disorders. This overlap can sometimes lead to one condition being mistaken for the other.

Common Triggers for Co-occurring ADHD and Anxiety/Depression

  1. Undiagnosed ADHD: Adult ADHD, in particular, can remain undiagnosed for years. The challenges and symptoms of untreated ADHD can lead to increasing levels of anxiety and depression.
  2. Family History: Genetics play a pivotal role in many mental health conditions. A family history of anxiety, depression, or ADHD can increase the likelihood of these disorders co-occurring in an individual.
  3. Social Factors: ADHD can sometimes lead to social challenges. Struggles with peer relationships or feeling misunderstood can increase feelings of loneliness or anxiety.
  4. Substance Abuse: Many adults with undiagnosed ADHD might turn to substances like alcohol to cope. Alcohol abuse, in turn, can lead to or exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms.

Treatment Considerations

Problem child and desperate mother at psychological centre

Given the intricate relationship between ADHD, anxiety, and depression, a comprehensive treatment plan becomes essential.

  • Proper Diagnosis: A thorough assessment by mental health professionals can help discern whether the depression or anxiety is primary (on its own) or if it’s secondary to ADHD.
  • ADHD Treatment: Treating ADHD, often through a combination of behavioral therapies and medications, can indirectly alleviate some symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Direct Treatment for Anxiety and Depression: Prescription medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and support groups can be beneficial. The Anxiety and Depression Association recommends seeking treatment tailored to each condition’s specific symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular physical activity, maintaining healthy sleep patterns, and stress reduction techniques can support mental well-being for those with ADHD and co-existing anxiety or depression.


While ADHD doesn’t directly cause depression and anxiety, its presence and the challenges it brings can undoubtedly create an environment where these conditions become more likely. Recognizing the link between these disorders is the first step in ensuring those affected receive the comprehensive support and treatment they need.

By fostering a deeper understanding and by harnessing resources like the National Institute for Mental Health, the Anxiety and Depression Association, and other dedicated organizations, individuals can navigate the complexities of these intertwined conditions and seek a balanced, healthier life.