Adjustment disorders are one of the most common mental disorders worldwide. It is a stress-related condition where the patient experiences more stress than usual in response to an unexpected event. It causes several problems in your relationship, college, or work.
Any incident, including work issues, death of a close one, an illness, or a change in life, can cause anxiety. Sometimes, people adjust to such issues within a few months. However, if you have adjustment disorder, you will experience behavioral or emotional reactions, leading to anxiety or depression.
If you want to know more about an adjustment disorder and its common symptoms, check out our detailed guide.
What is an Adjustment Disorder?
The adjustment disorder is also known as stress response syndrome. It is a short-term condition that occurs when a patient faces difficulty adjusting or managing a specific source of stress. It can be a loss, a major life change, or a disturbing event.
The emotional or behavioral reactions of a patient are likely to change within three months. Moreover, this health condition is commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents. However, it can also affect adults.
Adjustment Disorder vs. Depression
Adjustment disorder has certain symptoms that overlap with those of depression. However, this disorder does not involve emotional and physical symptoms. These include changes in sleep, appetite, and suicidal thoughts.
Adjustment Disorder vs. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
An adjustment disorder is not the same health condition as a post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is mainly a response to a life-threatening event that usually happens after one month of the incident.
Moreover, the symptoms usually last longer than a seasonal adjustment disorder. In contrast, adjustment disorders last no longer than 6 months.
Types of Adjustment Disorder
According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), here are the six main types of adjustment disorders.
1. Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood
Patients diagnosed with this disorder experience a feeling of hopelessness and sadness. They also no longer enjoy activities that they did previously and end up crying all the time.
2. Adjustment Disorder With Anxiety
This type of adjustment disorder causes anxiety that includes feeling worried, anxious, and overwhelmed. Similarly, individuals suffering from this may experience problems with their memory and concentration. However, for children, this disorder is typically associated with separation anxiety from loved ones or parents.
3. Adjustment Disorder With Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood
People having this type of condition suffer from both anxiety and depression.
4. Adjustment Disorder With Disturbance of Conduct
The common symptoms of this condition involve behavioral issues, including driving recklessly or fights. Teenagers suffering from this condition may start missing school or steal personal property.
5. Adjustment Disorder With Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct
Patients of this disorder most likely experience anxiety, major depression, and behavioral issues.
6. Adjustment Disorder Unspecified
People suffering from this type do not experience the same symptoms as other adjustment disorders. Instead, they have physical symptoms like problems with friends, family, work, or college.
Signs and Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder
The signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder in children or adults majorly depend on the disorder type. It can vary from individual to individual.
This condition affects how you think or feel about yourself and the world. Furthermore, it affects your behavior or actions. The major symptoms of the adjustment disorder are given below.
- Feeling sad, anxious, stressed out, or hopeless
- Frequent crying
- Not enjoying things that you used to enjoy previously
- Constant anxiety
- Problems sleeping
- Getting isolated from social activities and other people
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Headaches or stomach aches
- Destructive behavior, such as fighting and rash driving
- Feeling tired or without energy
- Using drugs or alcohol
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty functioning in daily activities
- Stop going to work
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Fear of getting separated from loved ones
- Violation of the rights of others
- Violation of social rules and norms
- Destruction of property
Causes of Adjustment Disorder
As discussed earlier, adjustment disorder is a reaction to an event. However, there is no single direct cause between the stressful life event and the reaction.
Keep in mind, children and adolescents vary in their personality, past experience, and coping skills. Therefore, their responses to deal with specific events may also differ.
Below we have discussed the causes of adjustment disorder both in adults and children.
Common Causes in Adults
- Death of a friend, or family member
- Major changes in life
- Suffering from a severe illness or medical condition
- Relationship issues or divorce
- Moving to a new city or house
- Sudden disasters
- Financial difficulties
- Any other fears
Common Causes in Children and Teenagers
- Problems in school or college
- Family problems or fights
- Parental separation
- Sexuality issues
Risk Factors for Adjustment Disorder
Anyone can develop adjustment disorders. Nevertheless, it is quite common in children or adolescents. Both males and females equally get affected by this condition.
Moreover, it happens at any age and in all cultures. Thus, it is not easy to tell who is experiencing the symptoms of the adjustment disorder. However, it is believed that the characteristics of this condition may differ in teenagers than adults.
The following are the potential risk factors of this disorder that can affect different areas of a person’s life.
People with this disorder suffer from stress and emotional distress. Because of this, they experience severe depressive disorder symptoms leading to change in their behaviors.
Patients with this disorder also experience various challenges in their social life. It becomes difficult for them to manage relationships and other challenges at the workplace.
Children or teenagers suffering from adjustment disorders struggle in their academic life. They face issues while concentrating and memorizing that may result in bad grades.
Diagnosing Adjustment Disorders
Diagnosing adjustment disorder requires a detailed psychological evaluation and interview by a mental health professional. This process of evaluation considers emotions, behaviors, past experiences, and the sources of stress. Moreover, parents are also present during the process.
You must meet the below-given criteria to be diagnosed with an adjustment disorder.
- Having more anxiety and depression than usual
- Experiencing psychological symptoms within three months of the event
- Having stress that causes issues with the relationship, social, functioning, in school or at work
- Having symptoms that are not the result of another diagnosis, such as PTSD
- Improvement of symptoms within six months
Adjustment Disorder Treatment Plan
A treatment plan for the adjustment disorder is mainly decided by a health professional. However, it is based on the given factors.
- The age, medical history, and overall health of the patient
- Type of adjustment disorder
- Patient’s acceptance for specific therapies
- Specific factors contributing to the condition
- Type of a stressful event that has occurred
- Patient and family’s opinion and preference
By keeping these factors in mind, a psychiatrist will recommend the below-given treatments to deal with the adjustment disorder.
Individual psychotherapy involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach in the U.K and the U.S. However, other types of therapies are also recommended.
As this disorder is defined as short-term thus, the therapy will be a solution-focused and short course. The main goal of this treatment is to make the patient understand the techniques to overcome this disorder. This is how he will be able to deal with the problem and its impacts effectively.
It includes different therapies like crisis intervention, interpersonal psychotherapy, and the involvement of support groups.
This type of therapy is recommended when the patient is a child or adolescent. It is conducted to overcome the conflicting situation in family life by improving communication skills. Similarly, this therapy session is also used to teach the family how they should support the patient.
Sometimes, sharing challenges with a group of individuals having the same condition can also help you cope with the disorder practically. Such group therapy helps the patients to improve their communication skills. Thus, it proves to be a good source of encouragement and support.
Along with psychotherapies, medications are also prescribed to deal with adjustment disorder. Most medicines are prescribed to treat the symptoms specifically.
For example, if an individual is having insomnia or severe anxiety, only in those conditions medications are recommended. Nevertheless, they are carefully evaluated by the medical team beforehand.
Here are the medications that can be used to treat adjustment disorders.
Antidepressants are recommended if the patient suffers from the symptoms even after three months of the event. Similarly, if the non-medication-based treatment fails to deal with the disorder, doctors prescribe these medicines.
These medicines help to deal with sleeping issues and anxiety in the short-term. But they are not recommended for long-term use because of their addictive potential. Thus, they should be taken only after a careful evaluation by the medical professional.
Other than therapies and medication, some herbal remedies and their effects are being analyzed to deal with adjustment disorder symptoms. These include extracts of valerian and passiflora.
However, these material substances have not been sufficiently researched and analyzed. Therefore, you should always consult a specialist before using any herbal remedy. It is because they may not be safe for some people or in combination with specific medicines.
Preparing for Your Doctor’s Appointment
Are you planning to consult a health care professional for evaluating and treating your disorder? Here are the guidelines to help you prepare for your appointment. It is better to make notes before the visit to remember the information.
Consider the following points while making a list of things that you need to ask during the doctor’s appointment.
- Personal data including stress sources or recent life changes, both negative and positive
- The symptoms you are experiencing and for how long
- Medical information such as mental or physical health conditions you are suffering from
- Enlist all medicines, herbs, vitamins, or any supplements you are taking
- Questions that you need to ask your health provider
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Below are some questions you should ask your doctor during an appointment.
- What elements do you think are causing my symptoms?
- Is my disorder long-term or temporary?
- What treatment plan would you suggest?
- When will my symptoms start to improve?
- Would you recommend any herbal remedies to help me cope with my disorder?
- Are there any adjustment disorder case reports or brochures that I should study?
Other Strategies to Manage Adjustment Disorder
Here are some strategies you should follow to manage this disorder by taking care of your emotional well-being.
- Improve your resilience to deal with trauma, stress, or any other tragedy. It can develop your ability to cope up with a difficult event
- Connect yourself with healthy social supports like loved ones, parents, and friends
- Find a support group that deals with your situation
- Do things that give you a sense of achievement and purpose
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, proper sleep, and regular exercise
- Improve your coping skills by learning from past experiences
- Stay hopeful about the future
- Think positive to develop a positive attitude in hard situations
- Identify and develop your strengths
- Accept challenges and face your fears
- Address problems rather than avoiding them
- Parents should talk to their child patient about what he is going through and encourage them
- Establish good self-esteem
This complete guide will help you completely understand chronic adjustment disorder. The best approach to recover from this health condition is to treat it quickly and correctly. Thus, it is important to identify the disorder at the early stages to seek professional help.
This is how you can reduce the severity of symptoms by enhancing your growth and development. Similarly, you can also improve the quality of your life.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if adjustment disorder lasts longer than six months?
Usually, a time frame of adjustment disorder is variable. The condition develops after some time of the stressful event. However, if the disorder lasts longer than six months, it may refer to chronic adjustment disorder.
Is adjustment disorder a mental illness?
Many people think that adjustment disorder is less serious than other types of mental illnesses as it involves stress. However, it may affect a person’s whole life, leading to suffering in every area of functioning.
Is adjustment disorder genetic?
Although it is believed that adjustment disorder is caused as a result of a stressful life event. But different researches have also contended that genetics do contribute to the development of this medical health condition.
What is an adjustment disorder in psychology?
In psychology, adjustment disorder is referred to as a situational depression. It is an abnormal reaction to an identifiable life event. However, the responses are more severe than usual and can affect social, work, and academic life.