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Mental Health and Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is a short-term condition that occurs when a person is unable to cope with, or adjust to, a particular source of stress, such as a major life change, loss, or event. 

Because people with adjustment disorders often have symptoms of depression, such as tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of interest in work or activities, adjustment disorder is sometimes called "situational depression." Unlike major depression, however, an adjustment disorder is triggered by an outside stress and generally goes away once the person has adapted to the situation.

The type of stress that can trigger adjustment disorder varies depending on the person, but can include:

  • Ending of a relationship or marriage
  • Losing or changing job
  • Death of a loved one
  • Developing a serious illness (yourself or a loved one)
  • Being a victim of a crime
  • Having an accident
  • Undergoing a major life change (such as getting married, having a baby, or retiring from a job)
  • Living through a disaster, such as a fire, flood, or hurricane

A person with adjustment disorder develops emotional and/or behavioral symptoms as a reaction to a stressful event. These symptoms generally begin within three months of the event and rarely last for longer than six months after the event or situation. In an adjustment disorder, the reaction to the stressor is greater than what is typical or expected for the situation or event. In addition, the symptoms may cause problems with a person's ability to function; for example, the person may be unable to sleep, work, or study.

Adjustment disorder is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD generally occurs as a reaction to a life-threatening event and tends to last longer. Adjustment disorder, on the other hand, is short-term, rarely lasting longer than six months.

What Are the Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder?

An adjustment disorder can have a wide variety of symptoms, which may include:

  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Sadness
  • Frequent crying
  • Anxiety (nervousness)
  • Worry
  • Headaches or stomachaches
  • Palpitations (an unpleasant sensation of irregular or forceful beating of the heart)
  • Withdrawal or isolation from people and social activities
  • Absence from work or school
  • Dangerous or destructive behavior, such as fighting, reckless driving, and vandalism
  • Changes in appetite, either loss of appetite, or overeating
  • Problems sleeping
  • Feeling tired or without energy
  • Increase in the use of alcohol or other drugs

Symptoms in children and teens tend to be more behavioral in nature, such as skipping school, fighting, or acting out. Adults, on the other hand, tend to experience more emotional symptoms, such as sadness and anxiety.

How Common Is Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is very common and can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, or lifestyle. Although an adjustment disorder can occur at any age, it is more common at times in life when major transitions occur, such as adolescence, mid-life, and late-life.

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