How the Signs of ADHD Can Be Masked by Other Diagnosis

Jessica had been treated for anxiety and depression several times. Things would get better. And then get worse. And stay better for a little bit but then get a lot worse. It wasn’t until her fourth new antidepressant she thought: “Should it really be this hard?” However, when learning about ADHD while listening to a podcast, a lightbulb suddenly went off.

Procrastination. Check. Being easily distracted. Check. Being forgetful. Check. Zoning out in conversation. Check. Blurting things out in conversation. Check, check, check!!!

“Wait just one minute! This isn’t just a diagnosis,” she thought. “This is the story of my life.” Frantic for more answers, she spoke to her therapist (who did not specialize in ADHD). Buzzkill. The therapist said it was unlikely she had ADHD because she graduated college, and she should just focus on using her anxiety-coping skills. However, she remembered the podcast warned her about such stereotypes. Unwilling to be dismissed, Jessica found an ADHD specialist. Boom. ADHD. Severe ADHD.

An all too common tale. Not only had Jessica’s anxiety and depression been masking her ADHD, they even threw others off the ADHD trail. It wasn’t until Jessica became her own advocate by learning more about a term in mental health called “comorbidities” that it all came into focus. It is possible to have ADHD and depression. Or ADHD and anxiety.

Symptoms can mask symptoms. Here’s an insider look at how:

ADHD and Anxiety

Anxiety Symptoms

  • Constant worries that are difficult to control
  • Being on edge
  • Losing focus due to worries
  • Sleep problems due to worries
  • Being irritable

Many folks struggle with generalized anxiety. In fact, 50% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. When you have undiagnosed ADHD, anxiety can often emerge as a coping skill of sorts: “If I can scan the room for all the potential problems, there is little chance I’ll make a mistake.”

Over time, the anxiety issues take on a life of their own and mask the ADHD symptoms. Perfectionism (also tied to anxiety) can further mask ADHD, as the world sees little errors. However, what they don’t see is the underlying sense of feeling scattered and stressed. Or the six hours spent in the evening catching up due to being distracted on your phone half of the day. That stuff? That’s all an attention deficit (not anxiety).

ADHD and Depression

Depression Symptoms

  • Trouble concentrating or making choices
  • Hopelessness and excessive pessimism
  • Crankiness or irritability
  • Sleeping too much, insomnia, etc.
  • Feeling sad most of the day for weeks on end
  • Loss of interest in activities that once brought you joy

Did you know that 25% of people with ADHD will at some point in their lives experience a depressive episode? Typically, this tends to cluster around difficulty keeping up with major life changes or transitions. These moments are known in the ADHD field as “ADHD tipping points.” Here are some examples of ADHD tipping points:

  • Getting married
  • New jobs or promotions
  • Major moves
  • Starting graduate school

Furthermore, it’s easy to slip into a depressive episode when you are watching others make life changes. Often ADHD can impact a person’s ability to plan toward a goal, which can create delays in getting started or completing them. However, if you feel like everyone else has it all “figured out,” then it’s easy to feel depressed.

So how does depression mask ADHD?

The critical nature of depression gets you focusing on improving your mood. And it should. However, when you also have ADHD, it is often the fact that underneath the surface you struggled to get things done long before you felt depressed.

Primary Diagnosis vs. Secondary Diagnosis

The problem with co-occurring disorders masking ADHD is that the primary issues go overlooked. It’s sort of like having high blood pressure and diabetes. Both need treatment, but if one treats high blood pressure and overlooks diabetes, where does that leave a person?

Pursuing an ADHD Diagnosis

Like many late-in-life ADHDers, Jessica’s entire world opened up once she had an ADHD diagnosis. Suddenly there was hope and a pathway forward. She discovered that the key to getting things done was both learning skills to help build structure and untangling her worry and shame. Once she received ADHD therapy for the frustrating parts of ADHD, she was able to effectively turn the rest of her ADHD into a superpower.

Begin Adult ADHD Testing and ADHD Treatment in Columbus, Ohio

You don’t have to live your life feeling overwhelmed and scattered. Our counseling practice in Columbus, Ohio has caring therapists who specialize in ADHD Testing and ADHD Treatment. To start your counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  1. Fill out the contact form to reach out and schedule a free 15-minute phone
  2. Meet with one of our caring therapists.
  3. Stop feeling scattered. Focus your busy mind.

Other ADHD Services Offered at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling

Adult ADHD treatment is not the only service we offer at our Columbus, OH-based counseling practice. At Focused Mind ADHD Counseling, we offer a variety of mental health services including ADHD testing. We know that as an adult with ADHD, you may also benefit from anxiety treatment for ADHD, counseling for men with ADHD, or depression counseling for ADHD. You can also view our blog for more resources and helpful info!