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ADHD, Depression or Both?

If your child has been diagnosed with attention deficit and/or depression, you may find this month’s article informative.  I read an article recently by Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. in a publication entitled, ADDitude.

Carol Wood

Following is my summary of what was contained in this article which I think many readers may find informative and helpful.   

There are occasions, when a child is misdiagnosed as having ADHD when he or she is depressed.  Or a diagnosis of depression is made when the child has ADHD.  Because both depression and ADHD have overlapping characteristics, there is a high risk for misdiagnosing the two.  For example, forgetfulness, low motivation and an inability to concentrate are found in both ADHD and depression.  Therefore, it is important to seek a trained specialist for your child to make sure the diagnosis is correct.

One thing is for sure, however, it is not uncommon for children to become depressed after they learn they have been diagnosed as “attention deficit”.  For many children they interpret an ADHD diagnosis as meaning they are “slow”, “have a brain disorder”, “can’t control him/herself”, “stink at school”, “not on the same playing field as others”, or “not as smart as other kids”.  What a terrible way in which to view one’s self, yet it happens more than we may know in children and adults!  Research has shown that when a person views him or herself negatively, they are at risk for depression.  In other words, an ADHD diagnosis can be a recipe for developing depression.

Following are five steps that could help reverse the symptoms of depression if your child has been diagnosed or has symptoms consistent with both ADHD and depression:

• Determine your child’s gifts and focus on them.  People with ADHD actually possess gifts that others may not have; such as, creativity, emotional sensitivity, interpersonal intuitiveness, exuberance, and feeling connected to nature.  Other gifts can be the ability to lead, being strong willed, and inner directed.  Focusing on your child’s gifts can aid in building motivation and confidence.  

• Build emotional intelligence.  Accept your child’s emotions and teach him or her to recognize and then label them.  If your child is able to verbalize that he is angry and needs help to calm down, this may help him or her control the emotions better. By building emotional intelligence your child will likely reduce impulsivity and the hyperactivity that often accompanies ADHD.

• Seek and use cognitive-behavioral therapy with a trained counselor.  A counselor can help the child reframe negative thoughts about him or herself into positive ones.  Your child can begin to realize he or she is very capable of success by thinking better about his or her abilities, working hard, utilizing sound study strategies, and managing his or her own behaviors and choices.

• Get physical exercise each day.  Research has shown that physical exercise increases focus and concentration, as well as improves depression symptoms by increasing neurotransmitter levels in the brain.  A half hour or more of physical exercise before school and in the afternoon or evening before study time can help!

• Talk with your child’s doctor about medications.  Recent research has suggested that psychotherapy and other treatments can be as effective as anti-depressant medications when depression is mild to moderate. However, for severe depression, medications should be considered.  Remember, in children and teens treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, they need to be monitored closely since research has found elevated rates of suicide attempts among them when taking this type of medication.

Our children deserve to know and understand the many positive traits of having attention challenges. This diagnosis can help a child understand WHY he or she thinks and behaves in certain ways and also recognize how truly gifted he or she is!  Some of the most successful and creative individuals have had the same diagnosis and are accomplishing remarkable things in their lives! 

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