Adverse Childhood Experiences Help Explain the Depression – ADHD Link

Adverse childhood experiences, or adverse life events, disproportionately affect individuals with ADHD, and may explain why ADHD is so closely connected to depression.

Our environments and experiences play an important role in our wellbeing. Of particular interest to researchers is the link between exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and risk for an array of mental health conditions, including depression and ADHD.

“We don’t talk enough about the importance of adverse life events in patients who have ADHD,” said Nelson M. Handal, M.D., DFAPA, in an ADDitude webinar.

Compared to those without ADHD, individuals with the condition are more likely to have experienced adverse life events — an association that may explain, according to researchers, why individuals with ADHD are also at greater risk for depression.1

“Adverse life events on adults who have depression and ADHD are extremely, extremely significant,” Handal said, referencing research that found that the ADHD-depression connection was substantially stronger in individuals who experienced serious conflicts and more adverse life events.1

What counts as an adverse life event? Researchers are working to confirm the definition, however Handal offered the following examples:

  • losing a parent (which happened to so many children during COVID, in itself an adverse event)
  • witnessing domestic violence
  • experiencing an unstable home environment (due to financial difficulties or other problems)
  • experiencing parental neglect

The rule of thumb for identifying an adverse life event, according to Handal, may be “anything that can alter your normal functioning.”

To learn more about adverse childhood experiences and their role in ADHD and depression, watch the full replay of Dr. Handal’s free ADDitude webinar, “New Insights Into and Treatments for Comorbid Depression.”

Depression and ADHD: Next Steps

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1 Semeijn, E. J., Comijs, H. C., Kooij, J. J., Michielsen, M., Beekman, A. T., & Deeg, D. J. (2015). The role of adverse life events on depression in older adults with ADHD. Journal of Affective Disorders, 174, 574–579.