What explains the link between childhood ADHD and adolescent depression? Investigating the role of peer-relationships and academic attainment

Victoria Powell, Lucy Riglin, Gemma Hammerton, Olga Eyre, Joanna Martin, Richard Anney, Anita Thapar, Frances Rice

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There is increasing evidence that childhood Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) elevates risk of later depression, but the mechanisms behind this association are unclear. We investigated the relationship between childhood ADHD symptoms and late-adolescent depressive symptoms in a population cohort, and examined whether academic attainment and peer problems mediated this association. ALSPAC (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) is an ongoing prospective longitudinal population-based UK cohort that has collected data since September 1990. 2950 individuals with data on parent-reported ADHD symptoms in childhood (7.5 years) and self-reported depressive symptoms in late adolescence (17.5 years) were included in analyses. 2161 individuals with additional data at age 16 years on parent-reported peer problems as an indicator of peer relationships and formal examination results (General Certificate of Secondary Education; GCSE) as an indicator of academic attainment were included in mediation analyses. Childhood ADHD symptoms were associated with higher depressive symptoms (b = 0.49, SE = 0.11, p < 0.001) and an increased odds of clinically significant depressive symptoms in adolescence (OR = 1.27, 95% CI 1.15–1.41, p < 0.001). The association with depressive symptoms was mediated in part by peer problems and academic attainment which accounted for 14.68% and 20.13% of the total effect, respectively. Childhood ADHD is associated with increased risk of later depression. The relationship is mediated in part by peer relationships and academic attainment. This highlights peer relationships and academic attainment as potential targets of depression prevention and intervention in those with ADHD. Future research should investigate which aspects of peer relationships are important in conferring later risk for depression.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2020

Structured keywords



  • depression
  • ADHD
  • peer-relationships
  • academic attainment


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