How does serious stress affect someone with ADHD?

If you know my story, my spouse and I have been separated for months. He has untreated ADHD. I am trying to balance co-parenting with him and maintain a friendly and supportive relationship. I also come here to continue to work out some stuff from our pretty traumatic relationship. 

Here is my question: What does serious emotional and environmental stress do to someone with ADHD? I believe he went through it a lot as an undiagnosed teenager (parents who were hyper-critical and mostly absent) and again as an adult. I saw that with me, keeping a steady job, the care and support of children, and the deterioration of our marriage increasingly and significantly affected his stress levels. And then our separation and now some financial insecurity is causing him a great deal of stress. I have seen him go from someone who is affected by untreated ADHD to someone who truly appears to be having trouble functioning, who can hardly move or make himself deal with anything, who is having trouble taking care of himself, and a social person who now never sees people. He cries frequently. He is losing interest in seeing our children for more than short periods (I think he does not want them to see him like this). I am concerned about him as a person and my children's father and have been urging him to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, but so far, no dice. I actually think he is on the precipice of a pretty severe breakdown in some way. 

I would appreciate any thoughts from folks with ADHD or their significant others in terms of how extreme stress may affect those with it. How can those with ADHD manage it? Many thanks. 

Nor more shame or guilt

In the first years of our marriage, dh became depressed to the point where we were spending more on a psychiatrist a week than what he was earning and we had a baby at home in the days when women's jobs could barely support a family.  I did everything to bend myself to what it would take for him to not be depressed.  I became enslaved by the threat of his depression.  After we moved to a place I did not like, after I took over the paying of the bills, after he had affairs and spent money that we didn't have on a sports car (because those were things that would help his depression he said), I forgave and tried to forget. Our marriage habits were formed by my "giving in" to the unspoken threat of his possible depression.  Now, at our age, I have given of my self sacrificially and he is still not able to support his family.  Did I curb a possible suicide all those years?  Probably not although that is what he said he was thinking about doing and I did not accept how he is able to lie to me so easily.  Would I have taken on the guilt of responsibility for him killing himself too? That is what I thought I was bravely doing for us all - not wanting suicide to be our legacy.  This is no way to live. I cannot be someone else's conscience, organizer, their guilt, their shame, happy-maker, unconditional lover, prompter, saviour, enabler, everything....while he sublimely smiles and jokes and laughs and "gets away with" enjoying life at my expense.  At some point, a person has to be responsible for their own life.  I am probably still hostage in this marriage after years of  believing this threat of his degeneration or suicide.  I don't want to feel guilty for his unhappiness.  But I also need to take responsibility of the quality of my own life and my children's learning about life and relationships.  I don't want them to learn from me how to be bent, shamed and threatened by fear of what another person MIGHT do. They do not know the early stories or that he was ever depressed i those days.   It doesn't matter what he does with his life now to you.  You are no longer responsible for HIS life or HIS decisions from now on.  You owe it to your children to be strong within yourself.  You are going through a tough time too.  Show them how it is done with grace.  After time passes, his well-being will be less and less a concern of yours.  If he chooses to degenerate, that is his choice and he would do that whether you had stayed married or not. He has the choice to "man up" or give up. You are giving your children the gift of a model for strength and self reliance.

That sounds like

That sounds like depression... Crying a lot, not wanting to see the kids...

i think that you are right to be concerned- as this will affect your children profoundly if it continues or if, god forbid, your ex became suicidal.

when I get stressed I feel like that- it's hard to pull out on your own... I agree with Jenna that you are not the person to help him considering that you have left him and intend to move on. What about calling his parents or siblings or close friends and letting them know what's going on? I know with you splitting that may seem strange- but if he is truly in crisis- it doesn't matter.

good luck. This sounds very difficult and stressful. I hope he can get some help. :)


ADHD and depression

I'm really sorry your ex is going through such a hard time. I know it's devastating to watch, especially knowing it can be fixed with some tweaks. If he would just seek help. My husband crawled into a deep depression when his extended family relationships fell apart leaving him in an extremely stressful position of having to help care for his elderly parents with minimal help, and being in over his head on our remodel, and really tight finances. This was an awful time for him and us and his family. Nothing got done well, he didn't take care of himself, he was emotionally erratic and awful to be around. These are very much signs of serious depression, and with ADHD getting in the way of getting out of it, it's really hard to get effective help. Stress is a common trigger for serious mental health issues as well as exacerbating ADHD symptoms. 

It sounds to me like he could use a trip to the hospital. A parent or sibling, or if any of the kids are old enough, could take him. You if you are worried enough on your kids behalf. I probably should have taken mine in when he was in crisis but its hard to know what the line is. I ended up making him an appt with a therapist, which he agreed to. And found a psychiatrist who was able to play with meds. He was already on ADHD meds but added some mood stabilizers. It's been 2+ years and the worst of the depression symptoms have been gone for about 9 months. Still no progress on remodel but I think that's basic ADHD symptoms. 

Unfortunately the afflicted person can not will mental illness away. There are habits that can be built to alleviate the issues, but the patient has to be willing. And finding the trigger to get them there is a mystery. Hopefully a loved one can get him to spark enough to trigger. It breaks my heart to watch people I care about self destruct. Best wishes.


Thanks, everyone. I tend to be someone who figures out and unravels things slowly, often after the fact, and it helps me to understand them even if I am not in them any longer. I am truly interested in how stress affects someone with ADHD differently than it may affect those without--I think it would explain a lot to me. And how it may trigger other mental health issues. From what I understand, major episodes of stress can trigger bipolar disorder and the like. I am also trying to learn more about ADHD because it is hereditary and I have my darling children to think of:-)

It is painful to watch my STBX in such a dark place, but my concern at this point is that he has reached out to me and he also has contact with our children (or a lack thereof, which also affects them). Even being able to explain this to them is important to me, because they are young. I have no intention of mothering him or making his problems mine, no worries:-) I frequently go days with little or no contact with him and have divorce proceedings in process. I left and have no desire or wherewithal to take that on, nor do I feel like it is appropriate or healthy or the right thing to do. I do want to understand it, though, and as Shelley mentions, it is tough to know where to draw the line or what the line is in determining how seriously to respond. I think he needs a medical and pharmaceutical treatment from a specialist or a trip to the hospital--thank you for the suggestion. He has never mentioned harming himself or anything like that--I am just concerned that he seems so far down a well that he can hardly function. Unfortunately his family is far away and has been of frustratingly little or no help throughout this. They tend to be very hands off, hate confrontation, and I think started giving him the "tough love" treatment years ago before we met and don't really "get" what is going on here. We do have a few friends in town here that may be of help, and thank you for the suggestion. Sometimes even writing down what is going on can help me clarify it. 

Many thanks for your concern and care, everyone. 


I'm in the same boat.

I left my husband, moved in with my married daughter and got a job here (90 miles from "home") I've gone back a few times to pick up items and spend time in our old hometown, which I loved. My husband is a college graduate, but is enrolled in a program for welfare folks to teach them basic skills like wriing resumes. After 3 months, they will pay him a $100 a week stipend. His mother pays half the rent. Our landlord, stupidly, agreed to take half the rent when I moved out. Now he's bugging me to pay the balance. (His mother is paying the other half.) He can't move in with her and the landlord is losing patience. I can't say I blame him for that. My husband, with no job, no television and no internet, still doesn't seem to be able to motivate himself to get the dog poop off the floor. I feel so bad for him but I can't figure any way to help him and I can't let myself be dragged down with him. I fear he will end up homeless. He probably qualifies for Medicaid but hasn't applied and isn't getting treatment for his depression or ADD or physical issues either. I feel so bad for him but have resisted the urge to mother or fix him. I feel so bad for a person so lost but I can't make this right. I never should have married him.


I was thinking about this using the tv analogy. It seems like the lack of ability to filter and prioritize make additional stressors overwhelming. It's like when the ADHD child is 8 he has 3 tvs in his mind: fun, school, and parents. As he starts to struggle the volume on school and parents gets louder and a disapproval tv is added. Then you get a job and a girlfriend and the volume on a couple goes down, but job and girl are 2 new tvs. Then he gets married, and job volume goes up, then you buy a house, new tv, and have kids, more tvs at loud volume. Then the wife tv gets a new writer and louder, and disapproval tv is loud, and job tv is loud because new harder responsibilities ensued. Add other tvs, such as parent health, tight finances, job hunting, remodel, etc.  And less resilience due to less exercise and sleep, and the tvs are all overwhelming all the time. Can't pay attention to them all, but can't pick one to work on cuz the others are too loud to ignore. Hard not to let the disapproval tv win. Not sure if those who have ADHD agree but it kind of looked that way as an observer wife tv. 

I typically don't relate at

I typically don't relate at all to the "noisy" portrayals of the ADHD experience, but this TV thing resonates simply with the implication of being pulled in too many directions at once. Most of the time I can ignore most of them to do a serious job accomplishing something on one, but there are moments that I just shut down. Either too many TVs are too prominent, or one alone is too shrill. Most often the wife TV in an argument just leaves me curled up in a ball with my hands over my ears (figuratively).