First The Bad News
Depression is estimated to be 2.7 times more prevalent among adults with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than among the general adult population.
The above statement was first written by Dr. Carl Sherman, Ph.D. in a similar article.
He goes on to explain that counter to the bad news above, the good news is that many of the remedies utilized to offset and treat depression for people without ADD, will work for us too.
What I found fascinating about the above article is actually that based on surveys of both doctors and diagnoses, many doctor’s often mistake ADHD for depression. I would have thought it was the other way around.
Dr. Sherman then goes on to explain how, stating that both ADHD and Depression bring with them similar mood problems such as forgetfulness, the inability to focus, and often a general lack of motivation, it is estimated that as many as 50% of people with ADD / ADHD suffer from depression.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
As far as I see it, the biggest issue with ADD and depression is that one is likely to beget the other. And seeing as those of us with hyperactive brains tend to be susceptible to plaguing fits of impulsivity, this can quickly escalate to a dangerous place.
What’s worse is ADD, if either undiagnosed (which is estimated to be as high as 85% of the ADD population) or untreated, can cause problems in almost every area of your life; school, work, finances, relationships, and areas driven directly by staying motivated such as self reliance, self sufficiency, and self improvement.
According to ADD-crushing productivity coach Alan Brown, common outcomes for us ADDers who do not find an effective path for treatment are pretty sad, including:
- Less education, higher unemployment, and lower overall lifetime income.
- A higher likelihood of smoking and substance abuse, with a 7x greater chance of developing a drug addition.
- Being 2x as likely to get arrested and 3x as likely to get convicted of a crime, with as many as 45% of the current jailed population suffering from ADHD.
To summarize this, the symptoms of ADD aren’t always easy (or straightforward) to diagnose.
What ADD Depression Looks Like
Depression can come for all of us, whether ADD or not.
As I mentioned earlier, depression with ADD comes in 2 primary forms; 1) difficulties arising from having/dealing with ADD /ADHD cause depression, or 2) Depression magnifies existing ADD / ADHD symptoms.
The way depression sets in and is initially observed tends to be relatively specific for folks with ADD:
1. Depressed Moods
Depressed moods are periods of darkness where you may feel unusually angry, sad, helpless, or alone. These are usually induced by external triggers and may not last long. Whereas for someone who is suffering depression as their primary emotional state versus depression being a secondary emotional after ADD, these moods can go on for weeks or even months.
In cases where the primary trigger for a depressed mood is ADD, this can be treated and successfully navigated through treatment strategies and sometimes medication.
2. Sleep Patterns
It’s already hard enough for us with ADD to get to sleep on a regular, healthy schedule.
This is quickly compounded when depression hits, with sleep cycles rapidly declining to points of physical debilitation.
This is actually very different from Non-ADD depression, whereas clinically depressed people are able to usually fall asleep with relative ease. For the ADD / ADHD brain, falling asleep is often a chore – no matter how badly we may want it.
Thoughts and ideas race, often causing us to play out imaginary scenarios and create fictional anxiety in our minds.
If you’re finding your sleep patterns to be more erratic than usual, with you getting tired and worn out early in the day, it may be a sign you need to seek emotional support for depression.
The silent killer for those of us with ADD.
For non-ADD people who are depressed, it is common to lose interest in activities they usually enjoy. The common result for us with ADD is a near-impossible ability to start something new.
Whether it’s a project or simply a task we perceive as being a “big task,” suddenly we become painfully lazy, and find every excuse possible to put it off.
It’s important to distinguish that this is in fact NOT laziness at all, though it is commonly perceived that way. This is a reduction in our bodies operational dopamine needed to sustain our natural mental balance and keep rolling through tasks each day.
I have a special relationship with my impulses; I’m notorious for giving in to them.
For example, I have tattoo’s that I’ve gotten with only a moments notice.
Which reminds me of a story…
I have a very clear memory of standing in Na Ka Oi Tiki Tattoo, on 4th and South Streets in Philly, and being turned down for a tattoo.
The artist and shop owner at the time, Anna Paige, had tattooed me before – but today I was there for a friend’s tattoo. After growing impatient sitting for oh maybe 30 minutes, I said “I think I’ll get a tattoo.”
“Oh really,” Anna exclaimed, “what are you thinking?”
I thought for a moment and said “a spider web on my right elbow.”
She said no.
She went on to explain that she wouldn’t do this tattoo because I would surely regret it later – not to mention I wasn’t really befitting of what this particular ink stood for.
I got upset at the time, I wanted her to be my tattoo artist not my mother… but I was 18 years old, and it turns out she was absolutely right.
You see, I used to think my impulsive nature was care-free and spontaneous, but I’ve learned that’s not what these tendencies represent.
Instead, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, under extreme pressure, or often times just stuck – I find myself making impulsive decisions.
While this isn’t always a sign of depression – it can be, and this is where developing a true self awareness is critical.
What I’ve Learned
I have control over both my impulses and the anxiety that drives them.
By taking proactive steps to mitigate and control my ADHD using specific strategies to drive focus and balance my time – specifically in a way that works for me – I am able to cut down on the number of decisions I regret.
I’m still an impulsive person, and in some ways I think it’s an innate part of me – but these days my impulses tend to influence whether or not I should have fries with that, instead of getting tattoos, having that additional drink I don’t need, or staying up for just one more episode.