Emotions & Shame

Boredom x ADHD = Feeling Depressed

Children and adults with ADHD often develop the blues when they are bored. Here’s how I — and your child — can fend off feeling down.

Father and daughter discussing the side effects of her ADHD medication
Shot of a father and daughter talking indoors

People with ADHD often experience depression after success. This usually occurs when the clarity of hyperfocus passes after completing a project. The noise and mental muddle returns, and, on their coattails, depression. For me, with a comorbid condition of depression alongside my ADHD, the “depression after success” syndrome triggers a major depressive episode if I don’t prepare for it.

What about girls with ADHD, who tend to be more inattentive than hyper? Findings show that women in the general population are more prone to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety than men. Their ADHD counterparts are even more so. Boredom, in these cases, is a mental muddle that can trigger a funk similar to depression after success.

The instant I am bored my mind leaps in a more interesting direction. However, since boredom often got me into trouble (changing projects midstream, not finishing what I started, and so on), I developed coping strategies to prevent myself from leaping into the oncoming traffic of life. I modified these strategies to help my daughter.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Depression?]

1. Decide to avoid boredom. When I gave my daughter this first step, she looked at me and said sarcastically, “Gee, thanks, Dad.” But then I explained that she needed to avoid boredom like she avoids doing the chores. Since she tended to slump into depression when she became bored, she needed to change how she looked at boredom. It’s like black ice you need to walk around. Only by avoiding boredom can she hope to prevent slipping into depression.

2. Choose three things to engage you when you are bored. You can’t decide not to do boring things. Life has lots of boring responsibilities we cannot avoid. You may not be able to make boring tasks un-boring, but the good news is that you can find things to help keep you focused. I told my daughter to take notes at school in different colored inks. If she couldn’t get up to move around, she could tap a pen on her knee or discretely jiggle her legs. Simple things like these keep the ADHD mind active and prevent the melancholy of boredom from settling in. For her, the multicolored Bic pen was a big success. I suspect scented pens might also be effective for her.

3. Keep several entertaining activities on hand. When I am trapped in a waiting room, I have writing and drawing journals, an iPad, and an iPhone to keep me occupied. Other people knit, do crossword puzzles, solve Sudoku, or read a book. If one thing doesn’t work, have something else on hand to engage your mind. Keep it in a bag by the door to bring with you everywhere you go. Downtime doesn’t have to be dull.

The trick is to look at depression due to boredom as if you were drowning. Just as you would struggle to stay afloat, use mental activities like the ones I listed above to keep your mind engaged and not distracted. With practice, you’ll see the warning signs of an attention slump and avoid it with greater ease.