How Undiagnosed ADHD Triggers Depression and Anxiety

written by Nelson M. Handal, M.D., DFAPA, posted on Attitude Magazine

Depression and anxiety disorders occur with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at significant rates. While figures vary across studies, it’s estimated that 18% of adults with ADHD also have major depressive disorder, and about half of adults with ADHD have anxiety.1 What explains these high comorbidity rates?

Many factors may explain the overlap, and one of them I can’t stress enough: ADHD does not happen in a vacuum, and its effects are far more impairing when the condition goes undiagnosed, untreated, or improperly treated.

Untreated ADHD Causes Feelings of Inadequacy

Undiagnosed and/or untreated ADHD makes children, teens, and adults who are otherwise bright and competent feel severely inadequate. It’s not difficult to see how; untreated symptoms of ADHD, from impulsivity and emotional instability to poor planning and execution skills compromise one’s ability to find success in school, work, relationships, and other parts of life. Ongoing challenges and failures, especially when the root cause is neither identified nor treated, makes these individuals feel like failures — like they aren’t trying hard enough. Self-esteem, as a result, plummets.

Other emotions — like anger, resentment, and feelings of worthlessness — often come up as a result of experiencing challenges related to undiagnosed and/or untreated ADHD. Emotional sensitivity and reactivity are not uncommon, especially strong emotional responses to failure. These emotions cause depression and anxiety to develop. Irritability and feelings of worthlessness, after all, are symptoms of depression.