Ask An Expert / Depression

I’m 17 and have struggled with ADHD and depression. Medications I’ve tried haven’t worked. What should I do now?

When the first treatment doesn't work, don't give up!

Steven G. Dickstein, MD

I'm 17 years old and have struggled in the past with ADHD related symptoms. I have a really hard time staying focused on one task, from important things like homework to small things like eating my food. I can't stay organized and get so easily distracted my friends get angry with me. I'm always saying, "Huh? What?" every 2 minutes when we are having normal conversations. It is really starting to bother me.I also get down in the dumps (what some would called depressed) randomly. It's very mild and I'm not mean to people I just get really tired and just don't want to do anything.I was prescribed Adderall about 3 years ago but it didn't help, I just felt the side effects (restless, not hungry, queasy stomach), but I still was having many problems. I tried the anti-depressant Sertraline but no dice.I promise I'm not just some really disorganized kid who doesn't get enough sleep that blames his problems on medical issues. Should I go to the doctor again and try to get this figured out or will it most likely pass by over time?

First of all, it’s really impressive that you’re asking these questions. When you’ve had difficulty with ADHD and depression, and the treatments you’ve tried haven’t worked, it’s tempting to give up, and assume there’s nothing that will be helpful. But it’s not true.

Certainly, going to a doctor and talking through what you’re experiencing would make a lot of sense. Kids with ADHD don’t always respond to the first medication. So, if you tried Adderall, and it wasn’t successful, then it’s worth trying other options. The active ingredient in Adderall is a stimulant called dextroamphetamine. Others, like Ritalin and Concerta, are based on methylphenidate. Some people respond better to one stimulant than the other. There are also non-stimulant compounds that help some kids with ADHD.

The same thing is true with antidepressants. Again, if the first medication doesn’t work — although many people do respond to the first medication — it’s always a good idea to go back to the doctor and talk about what other options are out there. Also, there are several different types of psychotherapy that may be helpful.

It’s important to find a doctor who understands what you’re going through, and feels qualified to help you deal with it. Getting better can involve trying one treatment at a time until you get to the right one for you. It takes patience to monitor how the treatment is affecting you, and make changes and adjustments as needed.

The key is to keep trying, and not to give up.