Bob decides to see a psychiatrist. Bob says “Doc, I’ve lost interest in my favorite hobby, I have trouble motivating myself to do anything, I feel like a failure, and I sleep until noon every day.” Bob walks out with a prescription for antidepressants.

So what happens next? Maybe the meds relieve Bob’s depression, and he begins his path toward mental health recovery. But it’s also possible that Bob has ADHD.

LookalikeADHD can appear similar to depression for several reasons.

First, people with ADHD generally have motivation deficits. They have trouble summoning the cognitive resources to make themselves do things they know they should do, especially things they don’t find inherently rewarding or interesting. Likewise, lack of motivation is a symptom of depression.

People with ADHD are also easily bored, and they often start hobbies or projects only to quickly lose interest. This can appear like the loss of interest in and ability to derive pleasure from activities that were once enjoyable that is seen in depression.

ADHD, like depression, is often associated with sleep difficulties. In the case of ADHD, these can range from insomnia to a delayed circadian rhythm. Hence why Bob sleeps until noon every day. If Bob’s doctor is already interpreting Bob’s symptoms through the lens of depression after hearing about Bob’s loss of interest and lack of motivation, Bob’s sleep abnormalities might appear to reinforce that diagnosis.

Finally, there is the fact that undiagnosed ADHD really can cause feelings of shame, frustration, pessimism and low self-esteem. Not that these feelings are themselves symptoms of ADHD, but that they’re a natural consequences of the chaos, repeated failures and sense of underachievement that ADHD wreaks on people’s lives. In some cases, ADHD can even exist side-by-side with full-blown depression.

Of course, while some symptoms of depression and ADHD appear similar, the treatments for the two disorders are different. If you’re being treated for depression when your main problem is ADHD, you’re not going to get good results. You’re probably just going to lose faith in mental health professionals’ ability to help you.

For that reason, it’s important to find a doctor who will take the time to differentiate between ADHD and depression. Ultimately, a little extra work at the diagnosis stage will make a big difference when it comes to receiving effective treatment and improving your life.

Image: Flickr/Spiced Coffee