Depression and ADHD

When past client Harry booked a coaching session, I was excited to see him again. We had worked closely together 8 years ago and at that time, Harry had made many positive changes in his life. These changes helped his ADHD and created a life he loved. Now, like lots of past clients, he booked appointments every few years for a ‘top up’ session.

Harry arrived for his appointment and after happy exchanges –

‘It’s so good to see you again,’

‘You look just the same,’ 

–We took our seats and Harry promptly burst into tears.

This was unexpected. Harry is a naturally cheerful happy person.

 

I asked what had been happening in his life recently that might have caused him to feel sad. He shrugged and replied, ‘That’s the strange thing; nothing out of the ordinary.’

After few more questions and we found that while there hadn’t been a major life event, there had been serval smaller things.

  • His 18 year old cat had died.
  • His office space had been reorganized and now his desk was in a dark corner instead of by the window.
  • A close friend had moved across the country so they didn’t see each other on a weekly basis any more.
  • Plus, it was winter and since he hated to exercise inside, his exercise habit had trailed away.

Then from this low state, all the things that usually wouldn’t be a big deal for Harry had piled up and felt huge. For example, keeping on top of housework, filling out the paperwork for a new passport, paying a speeding ticket.

Depression had sneaked up on the unsuspecting Harry.

Harry left my office with strict instructions to see his family doctor. Then, in addition to the medical treatment he received, we got him back on track with his old ADHD-friendly habits that help ADHD and can be helpful for depression.

ADHD and Depression

One out of four ADHD adults suffers with depression and adults with ADHD experience depression at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Depression is categorized into two types: Primary Depression and Secondary Depression.

Primary Depression is hereditary (genetic) and you feel depressed without there being a trigger or reason why.

Secondary Depression is the result of a trigger (environmental), for example, the loss of a loved one or because of your ADHD struggles.

Sometimes ADHD can be mistaken for depression and vice versa because the symptoms are similar. For example, problems concentrating, problems sleeping, forgetfulness, low motivation, being very critical of yourself, feeling angry and restless.

Which is Treated First?

It depends on the type of depression and its severity. Sometimes your doctor will treat depression first because it has the potential to be life threatening.

Other times, your doctor will treat ADHD first because in the case of secondary depression, by treating ADHD symptoms (the root cause), then the depression can lift.

What Does Depression Look Like?

Recognizing the symptoms of depression is the first step to getting the right treatment and feeling better. Depression can creep up on you gradually without you realizing. Here are 12 signs to watch for.

  1. Your regular routine and habits are affected.

You might go through the motions of your old life, but take no enjoyment in it. Or one by one your usual habits fall away. Habits can range from showering, cleaning your teeth, making the bed, to picking up your Starbucks on the way to work.

  1. Hobbies lose their appeal

Hobbies and activities that you used to looked forward to lose their appeal. They feel like work, rather than fun. Your hobbies can be big events like days spent rock climbing, or smaller pieces in your day.

For example one client loved reading fashion magazines like Elle and Vogue. Ever since she was a teenager she had been a subscriber and loved to read them in the evenings. A red flag for her was the backlog of unopened magazines sitting on her coffee table.

  1. Exercise gets pushed to one side.

Even though exercise is very good for ADHD and depression, it is often the first activity to get pushed away because it seems too much effort, mental and physical.

  1. Change in sleep patterns

Sleeping can be either the most enticing activity in the world and you sleep for hours. Or your bed becomes a battlefield in the form of insomnia.

  1. Change in diet

Healthy meals are replaced with comfort food. Chopping a salad takes effort and planning, plus your body craves foods that increase the feel good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Pizza and chocolate ice cream seem more appealing, even if the effects are only temporary. There could be weight changes too, either a weight gain or loss.

  1. Escapism

You might find yourself taking part in activities that help you escape reality for a while. Drinking, smoking, taking drugs, gambling, driving fast, zoning out on video games are all examples.

  1. Social interaction reduces or stops.

Picking up the phone or replying to text message feels like a big deal. Plus, people usually want to  arrange to ’do’ something, so not responding saves having to come up with excuses.

  1. Clutter

Your home can become cluttered and messy. Putting things away or even taking out the garbage is a huge task.

  1. Mood changes

Your generally positive, proactive nature has been replaced with feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness.

  1. ADHD-like symptoms

You might feel that your ADHD is getting worse in the form of concentration issues, forgetfulness, low motivation, feeling angry and restless.

  1. Physical ailments

Aches and pains, digestive problems, headaches, loss of energy, can appear as if from nowhere.

  1. Your world shrinks

Your world has become small, and most days consist of work, Netflix and bed.

If you are feeling some or all of the above for two weeks or longer, make an appointment with your doctor.

Because depression can creep up on you over time, it can be harder for you detect than for someone who doesn’t see you every day.

If a friend who you haven’t seen for a while asks if everything is okay, don’t dismiss it and think they should mind their own business. Use that question as a sign to investigate further.

Actions

Depression can make you feel helpless and that you have no control. However, in addition to visiting your doctor, there are some things you can do at home to help you feel more in charge. You might not feel like doing any of these suggestions at first, so start really small.

1) Take your supplements. If you only take one, choose Omega 3. It’s fabulous for your ADHD and your mood.

2) Explore further. If you want to explore supplements at a deeper level, book an appointment with a nutritionist, dietician or naturopath. They will be able to help determine in which of the following vitamins and minerals your body is low.

It could be the B complex vitamins, including B1, B3, B5, B6 B12 and folic acid; Vitamin C; and minerals magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and potassium.

3) Start gentle exercise. Dr. John Ratey, ADHD expert and Harvard psychiatrist, says exercise is like a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.

Exercise helps us mentally feel good. A good way to ease back into exercise is to start tracking how many steps you take each day and gradually increase it.

4) Choose good food. Food has a powerful effect on your mood. Start replacing comfort food with some whole, clean feel-good food. Fresh fruit, veggies and fish are all great choices.

5) Take a tiny surprising clutter action. Do you have lots of clutter on the floor of your home? If so, move it onto counter space or tables. It might sound strange, but clutter on the floor adds to depression.

6) Go back to simple pleasures. Have you let simple pleasures go? What did you used to enjoy doing? Reading magazines, going to Starbucks, listening to music in your car, taking your dog to the dog park, doing a Sudoku puzzle. Pick the thing that feels the easiest and start doing it again.

7) Reconnect socially. Reach out again to your friends, or promise yourself you will reply to friends when they reach out to you. Or make a goal to do one social thing a week.

We are social beings who thrive on human interactions.

8) Take a peek in the mirror. Is there anything you would like to change? One client had let his hair and beard grow really long and only washed them very occasionally. When he shaved and got a haircut it affected his mood in a very positive way. What would your version of this be?

9) See a therapist. A CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist who has experience working with adults with ADHD would be a great choice.

10) Read. Information is power. If you like reading, here are two book recommendations.

A few years ago, a blog reader reached out to tell me about a book that had helped him during a serious bout of depression. He thought I would be interested because some of the steps in the book are what I talk about here at the Untapped Brilliance blog. 

The Depression Cure by Stephen S. Ilardi.

 This is also an interesting and informative read.

A Mind of Your Own. The Truth about Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan. M.D

 

Please note. The information in this article does not replace a medical or other professional intervention. When you are feeling depressed it is really important to visit your doctor or counsellor.

 

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Comments

  1. Marie says:

    Dear Jaqueline, this is the most perfect description of my life! At last, at last I have the joy to know what, why and how to manage my ADHD and depression. So many psychiatrists visited all my adult life (including the supposedly best one in my country) internet sites visited, so many doubts and suffering and you have all the knowledge about ADHD and you generously share it, thank you, thank you!!!!! I´m in tears, tears of happiness and a bit of fear because I know it is not going to be easy to begin changing so many things but I have my hubs that is willing to help. I am 74 yrs. and we have been married for 53. He says it has not been hard on him because he loves and likes me the way I am. I now know it was hard on our children but this is no time for regrets. 🙂

  2. theresa says:

    I loved this article on depression and ADHD: the distinction between genetic, enduring depression and episodic, triggered secondary depression; the list of what happens when you are depressed, the things that “sneak up on you:” and, steps to re-engage from and counter feelings of depression. So very insightful and helpful.

  3. Great post. Thanks for the book recommendations.

    I’ve found mindfulness very helpful for depression, and it helps me to manage my ADHD symptoms too. And I agree that exercise is a terrific mood booster!

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  1. […] environment makes you feel overwhelmed and anxious and there is a direct link to clutter and depression. These are all compelling reasons to attack your clutter. Yet, it’s very hard to do. It is time […]

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