The Link Between ADHD, Anxiety and Depression

By Alexandra Hayes Robinson

There is a clear link between ADHD, anxiety and depression. We share the latest facts about ADHD and mental health here, along with ways to get help.

What does attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have to do with anxiety and depression? Turns out, a lot.

While ADHD is often associated with behavioral disorders, it is also closely linked with anxiety and depression. In fact, those are the two most common conditions diagnosed alongside ADHD in adults, according to a 2023 survey from ADDitude, a digital publication that focuses on ADHD.

At Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, we believe in taking a comprehensive approach to treatment and mental well-being. In this guide, we’ll cover the definition of ADHD, the overlap between ADHD, anxiety, social anxiety and depression, and share more about our treatment programs for children, adolescents and adults at ERC Pathlight.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts how the brain plans, focuses on, and executes tasks. While it’s often touted on social media purely as an attention issue, an ADHD diagnosis is much more complex than an inability to accomplish tasks “successfully” — it can impact everything from a person’s interpersonal relationships to how they perceive themselves.

Typically diagnosed in childhood, ADHD persists throughout a person’s life. Most ADHD symptoms can be managed with proper medication and therapy.

There are three different subtypes of ADHD:

  • Predominantly inattentive:an inability to focus or being easily distracted
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: being restless or having trouble sitting still
  • A combination of the two

Approximately six million children between the ages of three and 17 years old have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to CDC data from 2016-2019. Additional research finds that about 60% of children with ADHD continue to be symptomatic in adulthood.

If you’re an adult with a recent ADHD diagnosis, or if you have symptoms that you’d like to get assessed by a medical professional, you’re not alone! Listen to our conversation with author KC Davis, whose adult ADHD diagnosis cleared up so many questions she had about her past.

ADHD, anxiety and depression are commonly co-occuring conditions — meaning that when you’re diagnosed with one of these conditions, you have a greater chance of being diagnosed with another of these conditions. ADHD, characterized by an inability to focus, a constant state of restlessness, or both, can be quite anxiety-inducing for the person diagnosed — and that’s why it’s essential that clinicians screen for anxiety and depression disorders among their patients with ADHD.

ADHD and depression

It’s estimated that one in three people who are diagnosed with ADHD also have depression, or have experienced a depressive episode. Sometimes the separate conditions coexist and have nothing to do with the other — but depression can also be a direct result of ADHD. Referred to as “secondary depression,” this often occurs when ADHD has gone untreated (or mistreated) for years, which can hurt a person’s self-esteem.

ADHD and depression share many of the same symptoms, so it can be challenging to differentiate the two. In fact, one of the most common misdiagnoses of adolescents and adults with ADHD is major depressive disorder, precisely because of the overlap between symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is used to inform mental health diagnoses.

Some of the overlapping symptoms between ADHD and depression include difficulty focusing, trouble with motivation, sluggishness and low self-esteem. Both conditions also have symptoms that are distinct: depression may cause a change in appetite, while ADHD may cause difficulty waiting in line.

ADHD and anxiety

ADHD and anxiety are also closely connected. While anxiety is not included in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, people with ADHD often experience anxiety as a result of their ADHD symptoms, and they’re more likely to have an anxiety disorder than people without the condition.

In one study, according to ADDitude, researchers noted that ADHD symptoms like tardiness or procrastination led participants to experience anxiety at many points in their lives — and that anxiety caused their ADHD symptoms to worsen.

Just like with depression, it’s important for clinicians to differentiate the symptoms so they can accurately diagnose the condition and provide the right treatment.

ADHD and social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders to coexist with ADHD, with research suggesting that 60-70% of people with ADHD also experience social anxiety. Social anxiety is described as an intense fear of social situations. While you can certainly have social anxiety without an ADHD diagnosis, some experts presume that ADHD symptoms themselves may put a person at greater risk of social rejection, thereby fueling related symptoms.

Just like in depression and general anxiety disorders, the symptoms of social anxiety and ADHD can look fairly similar. Difficulty socializing, inattention and trouble completing tasks are examples of overlapping symptoms between the two conditions. If you feel socially anxious, talk with your doctor about your symptoms to ensure that you are properly treated.

Find Help for ADHD

At Pathlight, we treat ADHD as a secondary diagnosis in all of our programs for individuals who are also struggling with mood, anxiety and trauma-related disorders. We offer distinct treatment programs for kids, teens and adults. For all ages, we offer multiple levels of care to best meet your needs.

Learn more about our mood, anxiety and trauma-disorder treatment programs for children and adolescents and adults.

Whether you’re looking for an assessment or are considering new treatment options following a diagnosis, Pathlight is here to help. Reach out by calling 1-877-825-8584 today.

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Written by

Alexandra Hayes Robinson

Alexandra Hayes Robinson is a writer and content strategist based in California. She's held senior leadership positions at Arianna Huffington's behavior change company Thrive Global and The Female…