The signs of depression are prevalent in children and teenagers with ADHD

As many as 10 to 30 percent of children and teenagers with ADHD are believed to also have depression. A 2010 study from the Archives of General Psychiatry found that children diagnosed with ADHD at ages four to six had a much higher risk of depression and suicidal behavior as teenagers than kids without ADHD; the findings were especially strong among girls.

What's the connection? Among other possibilities, depression in children with ADHD may have a genetic cause; researchers have found that the condition is more common when children had close relatives who also suffered from depression.

Symptoms of Depression in Kids with ADHD

Because depression often co-occurs with ADHD, children and teenagers with ADHD should be closely monitored for symptoms of depression, including a milder form called dysthymia, as well as major depressive disorder. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritability, anger or agitation
  • Negative feelings or statements
  • Decreased interest in and withdrawal from activities
  • Lack of concentration
  • Sadness or tearfulness
  • Irregular sleeping or eating habits
  • Thoughts or talk of death or suicide

A child who experiences these symptoms should receive a prompt evaluation by a doctor and mental health professional for a potential diagnosis and treatment.

Depression in children and teens with ADHD can be treated with a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, interpersonal therapy and family counseling. When considering medication, the doctor determines which symptoms are causing the most difficulty and typically treats those first.

When ADHD is causing the most impairment or it's not clear that a child has a depressive disorder, the doctor may recommend starting treatment with a stimulant, then adding an antidepressant (like a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) if the symptoms of depression persist. If depression is present and severe, it will likely be treated immediately.

If you think your child may be struggling with depression in addition to his ADHD, speak to his doctor about the signs you've noticed and how long they have been present. A child who expresses thoughts of suicide should receive immediate medical attention.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics

Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)

Chronis-Tuscano, A. et al. Very Early Predictors of Adolescent Depression and Suicide Attempts in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2010; vol 67: pp 1044-1051.

Publication Review By: the Editorial staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 27 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 27 Aug 2015