Mental Health & ADHD Comorbidities

“My Signs of ADHD Were Obscured by Comorbidities for Years”

Signs of ADHD can hide behind or blend it with comorbidities for a lifetime. Here, ADDitude readers share how a later-in-life ADHD diagnosis unlocked improved understanding of co-existing conditions — and self.

Is It Adult ADHD?Is It Anxiety or ADHD?  Is It Autism or ADHD?  Is It Bipolar Disorder or ADHD?  Is It Depression or ADHD?  Is It Executive Function Disorder (EFD) or ADHD? Is It a Learning Disability? Is It OCD or ADHD? Is It Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)? Is It Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or ADHD?

More than two-thirds of adults with ADHD also have anxiety and/or depression, the two most common comorbidities reported in ADDitude’s recent mental-health survey. Also on the list of co-existing conditions were sleep and eating disorders, learning differences, autism, and other comorbidities whose symptoms may remain obscured or overshadowed by ADHD for years (or vice versa). Often, the secondary diagnosis only comes into focus after successfully managing the primary condition (which could take years) and taking stock of residual challenges.

Did your ADHD diagnosis become an “a-ha” moment that explained persistent comorbidities, or did it bring more questions than answers? We asked ADDitude readers if their ADHD diagnosis shed light on co-existing conditions. Has your ADHD diagnosis helped you better understand or explain your comorbidities? Tell us in the Comments section below.

“I was diagnosed with depression first, but I couldn’t stick to treatment because nothing worked. When I finally got my ADHD diagnosis, it was life-saving. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed depression if I didn’t have untreated ADHD for decades. Even when my ADHD is well controlled, I’m dragging around the boulder of depression. There’s no way to know if I would have had one condition without the other. They both need equal attention and treatment. They both have the potential to impact my life seriously. And if I neglect one to focus on the other, it’s all too easy to fall out of balance and off a cliff.” — Cady, Pennsylvania

“I didn’t know I had ADHD until my formal diagnosis six months ago. For 18 years, I’ve had severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Now I see how my brain works differently and how not being understood by my teachers, parents, and friends may have led to my other diagnoses. My ADHD diagnosis has spotlighted my past and brought self-compassion, understanding, and the ability to change a negative narrative into one full of uniqueness and strength.” — An ADDitude Reader

“At age 12, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, major depression, and OCD. When I got my ADHD diagnosis at age 23 and went on medication, almost all my problems with depression and anxiety disappeared. I realized that my untreated ADHD was a likely factor in every other problem I’d faced. Addressing the root cause nearly fixed all the other issues.” — An ADDitude Reader

[Self-Test: Do I Have ADHD? Symptoms In Adults]

“I didn’t know about my ADHD until I was 39, but my major depressive disorder diagnosis came along in my 20s. For many years, depression was the central challenge. It has become clearer that ADHD was the beginning. Being 2e made it even more confusing. I thought my lack of discipline was a moral failure throughout my late childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. At the same time, I couldn’t help chasing my deep interest and dreams in medicine. The confusing gap between potential, passion, and performance opened the way to ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) and maladaptive behaviors. It’s a Sisyphean struggle to change. Familial genetic predispositions may exist for anxiety, depression, addiction, etc., but ultimately the insidious impact of ADHD opened the door wide enough to let in other challenges.” — Zolfa, Maryland

“I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, followed by ADHD a year later. Not until my ADHD diagnosis and learning how it specifically affects women did things fall in place. I experience signs of ADHD daily, and they are the most disruptive. So much so that I can slide into bipolar depression when the effects of ADHD reach a fever pitch. Once there, ADHD tendencies, like regret, being hard on myself, imposter syndrome, and good old executive dysfunction, make crawling out of the depression hole seem nearly impossible. And on and on it goes.” — An ADDitude Reader

“I was recently diagnosed with ADHD after years of struggling with anxiety and depression. It turns out that ADHD (with a side of PTSD) has been the underlying problem all along — 38 years in the making. I finally understand why things have been a struggle for so long. It’s going to be a tough road ahead learning to deal with all this, but I’m on the right track now, at least.” — Lexi, New Zealand

“I was diagnosed with dysthymia, social anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder before we discovered my ADHD. Now, ADHD is just part of who I am. If I manage my ADHD well, I won’t struggle with the other comorbidities. If I slip up and forget about self-care, it’s guaranteed that the others will turn up again.” — An ADDitude Reader

[“Lazy.” “Scatterbrained.” “Weird.” What Labels Preceded Your ADHD Diagnosis?]

“The chicken or the egg? For years, I thought my main diagnosis was depression. When my son began investigating inattentive ADHD, I began digging for information, too. I ticked off ALL the boxes for ADHD. It explained why I struggle with self-esteem, maladaptive daydreaming, forgetfulness, and weak executive functions, which resulted in bad grades, depression, and divorce. I finally got diagnosed with ADHD at 55. My psychiatrist treated my depression with medication for years, but never attempted to find an underlying cause or question my other traits and behaviors.” — Caroline

“I initially had generalized anxiety disorder and depression in high school. I was shy of 30 when I finally received my ADHD diagnosis. It finally made sense. My anxiety symptoms were ADHD symptoms. I overthink and overreact, not because I am afraid but because I am wired differently. My ADHD diagnosis is a life changer.” — An ADDitude Reader

“I think growing up with undiagnosed ADHD caused my depression and other mental health issues since no one knew how to deal with my extreme sensitivity or inability to do simple tasks. My parents tried their best, but without the knowledge or resources, they inadvertently encouraged me to hide who I really was and feel ashamed of myself. The ADHD diagnosis explains so much. For the first time in my life, I can find a language to express my experience and feelings and give myself a break. Though there are things I can’t do, it’s not because I’m lazy but because I have ADHD.” — Rua, Ireland

Comorbidities: Next Steps

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