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Peer Relationships, ADHD, and Depression in Teens


When your teen was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you probably prepared for a lack of focus or self-control. What you may not have expected to encounter was the possibility their ADHD may lead to depression.

It may be more than sadness your son or daughter has experienced for weeks. While ADHD creates challenges with completing schoolwork, it may also explain their sudden mood changes and lack of interest in usual activities. Studies show that adolescents who receive an ADHD diagnosis in their youth have an increased chance of experiencing major depressive disorder (MDD).

The Link Between ADHD and Depression

The medical journal European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry links ADHD to depression in several ways. Here are some notable statistics published recently:

  • 50% of adolescents with ADHD have MDD or an anxiety disorder
  • 35% of adolescents without ADHD are diagnosed with MDD or an anxiety disorder
  • Teens with ADHD typically under-report their depressive symptoms

Now that we know how much of a role ADHD can play in your teen experiencing depression, it’s important to understand why. Two significant factors contribute to ADHD leading to depression in teens: peer relationships and academic achievement.

Have you noticed your son or daughter struggling to make friends? Do they spend less time with their regular friend group? These are some important signs to be aware of because they could lead to an onset of depression for your teenager.

Social Life, ADHD, and Depression

Social acceptance has an impact on the mental health of any teen. While we may understand how it feels to deal with peer pressure in our youth, teens with ADHD face significant challenges. For adolescents who have ADHD, problems with peer relationships can result in a depressive episode. You may notice that your teen encounters challenges with their peers. If they have trouble forming friendships or question whether their peers like them, these social difficulties may be related to both ADHD and depression. Different aspects of peer relationships can trigger depression in teens with ADHD.

Let’s take a closer look at statistics from the article we link to above about the link between peer relationships, ADHD, and depression. Having good friendships, feeling liked by others, and socializing with others are important protective factors for depression in teens with ADHD. That’s why these statistics are important for parents to understand. Peer support helps prevent depression, but ADHD can make creating a solid peer support group difficult:

  • 14.68% of teens with ADHD have depressive symptoms related to issues with peer relationships
  • 12.50% of teens have depressive symptoms triggered by peer relationships
  • Teens with ADHD may have a reduced ability to form and maintain friendships
  • Peer victimization (bullying) increases the risk of depression risk in youth with ADHD

While these statistics connect the dots between peer relationships, ADHD, and depression, academic achievement may have an even more significant impact on your teen.

How Academic Performance Leads to Depression

ADHD can affect your teen’s grades, which may mean more to them than you know.

Since ADHD can directly impact your teen’s cognitive skills, underperforming in school can result in feelings of failure and frustration. When students have a hard time managing their ADHD, they may have difficulty paying attention in class, following rules, or controlling their emotions. These difficulties in the classroom may result in depression. Studies say that an estimated 20 percent of depressed teens with ADHD also experience issues with academic achievement. These figures may surprise parents who are unsure whether their teens are dealing with ADHD, depression, or both.

Does Your Teen Have ADHD, MDD, or Both?

ADHD and depression are mental health disorders with many symptoms in common. Figuring out whether your teen has ADHD, MDD, or both is not a simple task. Both disorders can result in trouble focusing, hyperactivity, and irritability. Adolescents taking medication to treat ADHD may also experience irregular sleeping and eating habits, which can be signs of depression.

Your teen may be depressed if they have the following symptoms:

  • Daily feelings of sadness that last for more than two weeks
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Extreme self-criticism
  • Suicidal ideation

Our Depression in Teens Parent Guide has a comprehensive list of the signs and symptoms of depression, along with potential treatment options to consider for your teen. We want to help you navigate evidence-based treatment options to help your teen achieve a sustainable vision of health and happiness. Please click here to access our parent resource page so we can support you and your family on this journey.

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