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Mental Health and Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is a short-term condition that occurs when a person has great difficulty coping with, or adjusting to, a particular source of stress, such as a major life change, loss, or event. In 2013, the mental health diagnostic system technically changed the name of "adjustment disorder" to "stress response syndrome."

Because people with an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome often have some of the symptoms of clinical depression, such as tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of interest in work or activities, adjustment disorder is sometimes informally called "situational depression." Unlike major depression, however, an adjustment disorder doesn't involve as many of the physical and emotional symptoms of clinical depression (such as changes in sleep, appetite and energy) or high levels of severity (such as suicidal thinking or behavior). 

The type of stress that can trigger an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome 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 an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome 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.

An adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome 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 disorders/stress response syndromes, on the other hand, are short-term, rarely lasting longer than six months.

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