Is Depression Neurodivergent?

Nov 8, 2023

Being neurodivergent means having one of the natural neurological variations that exist within us. In recent years, there has been an acknowledgement of the idea that each of us has neurological differences rather than having a disorder that should be fixed or cured.

On the other hand, depression is associated with neurological processes and changes in brain function, which is why the question ‘Is depression neurodivergent’ is often a topic of debate.

While depression is not typically considered a form of neurodiversity, as ADHD and autism are, some factors and an evolving perspective on mental health still suggest otherwise.

There is no black-and-white answer; there are some grey nuances that should be examined and understood.

The Concept of Neurodivergence

Neurodivergence is described as atypical or divergent neurological development and functioning when compared to the dominant or neurotypical population. In simpler terms, neurodivergence refers to natural variations in neurological development and cognitive functioning among individuals, which are not necessarily associated with mental health conditions.

The concept of neurodivergence arises from the fact that variations should be accepted and understood rather than being pathologized or “fixed.” For instance, conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and other developmental or cognitive differences should not be labelled as abnormal but accepted as a natural diversity of neurological and cognitive functioning.

Depression: A Mood Disorder or Part of Neurodiversity

Mood disorders are mental health conditions characterized by persistent changes in a person’s mood or emotional state. The categorization of these disorders as a part of neurodiversity has been a subject of debate. For example, some individuals consider bipolar disorder to be a form of neurodivergence, despite it being a long-term mood disorder, due to differences in brain structures and functioning that can contribute to this condition.

The categorization of depression as part of neurodiversity is a subject of ongoing debate and discussion within the mental health field. There is a whole different world of depression when viewed from the perspective of neurodivergence. This perspective provides an inclusive understanding and approach to treating these mental health challenges.

Is Depression a Type of Neurodiversity?

Depression is traditionally classified as a mood disorder in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, primarily considered a mental health condition rather than a neurological difference, although it does impact cognitive and emotional functioning.

Why is Depression not Considered Neurodivergent?

Depression is not universally classified as neurodivergent because it may fundamentally differ from the traditional definition of neurodiversity. The relationship between depression and neurodivergence is complex and multidimensional, and opinions on this matter may vary.

However, neurodivergent individuals can experience depression as a symptom or a co-occurring condition. For example, individuals with autism or ADHD may face specific challenges in social interactions or daily life that can increase their risk of experiencing depression. In such cases, it’s essential to provide appropriate support and treatment for the underlying neurodivergent condition and the co-occurring depression.

Then, Are People with Depression Considered Neurotypical?

Neurotypical refers to individuals who do not typically have conditions associated with neurodiversity, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. The term “neurotypical” is somewhat relative and is used in contrast to “neurodivergent” to describe individuals whose neurocognitive functioning falls within the expected range.

It’s not a rigid or fixed classification, and people may experience a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, regardless of whether they are neurotypical or neurodivergent.

Concurring Neurodivergent Conditions with Depression

Depression and neurodivergent conditions are multidimensional and can coexist. A neurodivergent condition does not immunize someone against experiencing depression or other mental health challenges. One condition may influence the other.

Some of the neurodivergent conditions that co-occur with depression are:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autism comes with many social challenges, communication difficulties, feelings of isolation, and vulnerability to bullying due to differences. These altogether can impact the mental well-being of individuals with autism and lead to depression.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD may be more prone to experiencing depression due to difficulties in work, academics, and overall impulse control. These challenges can feel overwhelming and contribute to feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy, increasing their vulnerability to depression.

Learning Disabilities: Learning disabilities can severely affect one’s social and emotional well-being. Dyslexic individuals can internalize the belief that they are not as capable as others, contributing to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Such comparisons can lead to negative self-perceptions and feelings of inferiority, especially when they observe their peers excelling in areas where they struggle.

Tourette’s Syndrome: Individuals living with Tourette’s Syndrome are at a higher risk of experiencing depression. Coping with the stress, anxiety, and social challenges associated with Tourette’s Syndrome can be emotionally draining. Moreover, the constant need to manage tics and navigate social situations can lead to emotional exhaustion and feelings of sadness and hopelessness, which are characteristics of depression.

Intellectual Disabilities: The daily challenges of living with an intellectual disability can be overwhelming. Associated factors such as limited access to educational and employment opportunities or difficulty expressing oneself can profoundly affect their mental well-being, leading to stress, anxiety and depression.

Is ADHD and Depression Neurodivergent?

While in the field of mental health and psychiatry, ADHD is considered neurodivergent, and depression is not. However, as discussed, depression and ADHD are comorbid. Therefore, ADHD and depression together can be considered as neurodivergent. |

Debate Around Depression and Neurodiversity

The idea of wondering, “Is depression neurodivergent?” arises from the debate that revolves around it. Some people argue that anxiety and depression or anxiety should be included under the neurodivergent umbrella because of their effects on brain function and how they influence an individual. Viewing depression from a neurodiversity perspective allows us to reduce stigma and provide support rather than aiming to cure or “fix” it.

Another perspective argues that depression is distinct from neurodevelopmental conditions and should remain classified as a mental health disorder, as it always has been. Those who contend with this argue that neurodivergence should be reserved for conditions that are present from early childhood and have a lifelong effect on one’s cognitive functioning.

Is Depression Neurodivergent? Psychological Perspective

Medically, neurodivergence itself is not considered a mental health diagnosis. Some experts argue that depression should remain categorized as a mental health disorder, as it fundamentally differs from neurodevelopmental conditions and requires distinct therapeutic approaches.

Is There Room for Depression in Expanding the Neurodiversity Umbrella?

Advocates argue for the inclusion of depression within the neurodiversity umbrella, as it promotes acceptance, reduces stigma, and fosters a supportive environment.

On the flip side, some argue that depression differs significantly from neurodivergent conditions due to its episodic nature and the need for immediate treatment and support, which goes beyond the scope of neurodiversity. The main issue with linking depression to neurodiversity is that depression requires treatment. Therefore, due to differing opinions, depression has not been fully embraced within the expanding concept of neurodiversity.

Summing Up

Depression and neurodiversity have always had a complicated relationship. And the ongoing debate has left people divided on whether depression is neurodivergent or not. However, let’s focus on what neurodiversity stands for, creating an accepting and supportive environment for individuals with neurological differences. The inclusion of depression under the neurodivergent umbrella provides individuals with a sense of belonging.


Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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