ADHD and depression
Like ADHD, you can’t motivate or drive away depression. It’s a whole process and it’s not linear at all. Image Credit: Supplied

“Girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are much more prone to depression than boys,” says 19-year-old Singaporean Anna, who requested her name be changed for privacy.

Anna found out about the connection quite by chance. A Dubai-brought-up stellar student, Anna was moved from school to school as a child, “To find something more challenging.” By the time she was 15 years old, she had been transferred to a school in Singapore. “The school environment is so different,” she tells Gulf News. “The culture shock was huge for me and I went through a period of severe depression.”


Fighting the crippling darkness, Anna saw a psychologist and as they worked to unspool the knots in her mind and mood, they began to see symptoms of ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder, presenting themselves.

ADHD symptoms
Children may have symptoms of both inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or they may have symptoms of just 1 of these types of behaviour.
Inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)
The main signs of inattentiveness are:
Having a short attention span and being easily distracted
Making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
Appearing forgetful or losing things
Being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
Appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
Constantly changing activity or task
Having difficulty organising tasks
Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:
Being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
Constantly fidgeting
Being unable to concentrate on tasks
Excessive physical movement
Excessive talking
Being unable to wait their turn
Acting without thinking
Interrupting conversations
Little or no sense of danger
Source: NHS, UK

“Looking back, I knew I had a lot of those symptoms. I couldn’t keep a hobby, I couldn’t be with people for a long time, and I think a lot of people – my parents and teachers – would say I was [the type of kid who] doesn’t listen to you, gets bored easily and is hyperactive,” she laughs.

In a paper, published in the ‘Journal of Global Health’, researchers’ state: “The prevalence of persistent adult ADHD was 2.58 per cent and that of symptomatic adult ADHD was 6.76 per cent, translating to 139.84 million and 366.33 million affected adults in 2020 globally.”

Medication, talk therapy

First, Anna tried medication for depression; this didn’t have the intended effect. “I couldn’t follow through because the side-effects were very strong for me. The depression was still there but there was just added-on nausea and headaches and anxiety. I knew it would be months being on the medication for it to work but I think because I have ADHD, I forgot the pills or wasn’t very regular with them, so I just kind of fell off that.

“After anti-depressant medication, I tried a number of ADHD medications – I have been through maybe three or four types of treatment in the form of medication and they never worked for me,” she says.

What helped was introspection and self-awareness. “Up until this point, I’ve been through a few months of depression three times in my life so far - the longest being one year. And just like ADHD, you can’t motivate or drive away depression. It’s a whole process and it’s not linear at all. It’s very, very complex. But for me, when I was depressed, I would remember the last time I was depressed and I knew that I got better from it before, so knowing that was … I know I shouldn’t listen to what my mind is saying, it’s temporary,” says the psychology student.

Shifting basis

The moving homes, schools, countries was not helpful. “I was moving schools a lot because my parents felt like I was not being challenged so once I started excelling in school… they would think I wasn’t being challenged enough and they’d move me. Eventually, once I got to high school, the performance was dependent on how much time you put into it and how much you could focus and engage with your classes. The skills that schools called for shifted as I got older and that’s where I fell off. It was not reflective of my intelligence anymore, it was reflective of discipline … I didn’t know how to cope.”

Friendships felt the strain of ADHD, too. “One of the main issues with ADHD I find is that you lose interest very very fast; it can be anything – hobbies, people; it affects my relationships and friendships as well. It’s not on purpose but you just run out of fuel, either to talk to people or approach people or to say anything to anyone,” she says.

Anna speaks quietly and confidently – with deep silences punctuating her sentences. “I find it very, very helpful to be around people. Being alone, especially during COVID-19, it’s easy to think that you are alone and to feel lost. So I’ve tried to go to university more this year and I’ve seen people panicking, working on deadlines, figuring out their own lives – it motivates me to work harder. I know I am different from a lot of them, but just being in an environment with other people really helps.”

She calls on people with ADHD to stay calm, to have patience. “It’s hard in general for people to understand what they haven’t gone through themselves. They can interpret it as laziness, incompetence, immaturity – things like this. And it really has an impact on your self-esteem, so I would say, don’t let it get to you and focus on understanding what works for you. And don’t prioritise other people’s interpretations, especially those people who are not educated on it.”

And for their family members, she calls for education. “Parents, read anecdotes online, because it’s very accessible now, about people who have ADHD and parents who have ADHD. They have a lot to say. It’s one of the only ways to find out what’s going on. A lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about ADHD and it’s a great way to educate yourself.”

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