People with adjustment disorders have difficulty adapting to new situations, and their responses to such problems are disproportionate to the stressors and interfere with day-to-day activities. Adjustment disorders can also be called situational depression.
The diagnosis of adjustment disorders is unusual among psychiatric disorders for which origin, symptoms, and course are all important factors. Adjustment disorders can occur at any age and are more prevalent in children and teenagers. Moreover, left untreated, they can deteriorate feelings, emotions, and behaviours.
Some physicians may recommend anti-anxiety medications and psychotherapy as the primary treatment options for adjustment disorders. Psychotherapy and medication are the standard treatments used. It is possible to see an improvement in symptoms within weeks or months.
What is adjustment disorder?
Adjustment disorders lead to maladaptive responses to stress, and these reactions are disproportionate to what is considered normal or suitable in the context. The criteria for diagnosing an adjustment disorder do not include the type of stressors. For example, the cause of stress may be a traumatic experience such as a brush with death, and it may also be unrelated to any such incident.
Stressors can be peculiar occurrences, such as a horrible break-up, or multiple events, such as difficulties in the workplace, problems in school, or financial concerns. In addition, stressors can affect an individual, a family, or an entire group, such as survivors of a natural disaster. Recurring stressors can form due to ‘milestone’ events, such as starting school, getting married, retiring, or certain seasons, such as Christmas or winter.
Symptoms of adjustment disorder
The symptoms of adjustment disorders differ significantly between individuals and the type of adjustment disorder. Preoccupation with the source of the stress, which may take the form of rumination or other disturbing thoughts, and an inability to adapt appropriately following the stressor are two of the most prominent symptoms of adjustment disorder.
Other symptoms may include:
- Feeling depressed
- Experiencing feelings of worry or anxiety
- Reluctance to discuss the source of the stress
- Avoidance or nervousness of the subject
- Tension or restlessness
- Concentration problems
- Variations in behavioural patterns
- Difficulty in performing daily activities.
Causes of adjustment disorder
There are many potential causes of adjustment disorders. Generally, any stressful event that leads to severe difficulties in a person’s personal or professional life is a probable cause for this condition. They include:
- The death of a loved one
- Relationship conflicts such as divorce
- Getting married and having children
- Critical health issues
- Problems at school
- Financial issues
- Problems at work
- Residing in a high-crime area
- Unexpected tragedy or disappointment.
Personality, temperament, health, life experiences, and family history could also play a role in developing an adjustment disorder.
Effects of adjustment disorder
Most children and adolescents who suffer from adjustment disorders recover within months, but lifelong effects are found in others. These possible long-term impacts include:
- Social detachment and withdrawal
- Family or marital disputes
- Impaired ability to complete tasks/responsibilities
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty focusing
- Behavioural alterations
- Negative mood swings
- Bipolar disorder
- Antisocial behaviour disorders
- Suicidal tendencies.
Treatment of adjustment disorder
Early detection and treatment of adjustment disorders are beneficial for management. Mental health professionals will aim to ease symptoms, enhance coping skills, reduce stress, and increase productivity in the treatments prescribed for this condition.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is the primary treatment for adjustment disorders, and medication helps alleviate particular symptoms such as anxiety. Since a stressful scenario is the root cause of adjustment disorders, it can be beneficial to talk to someone you trust and obtain the resources you’ll need to learn how to deal with stress healthily.
Counselling can also be beneficial. Family therapy is helpful if the individual is a child or adolescent. Complementary techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises can also help manage and treat symptoms.
Based on the stress response model, three methods of care are worth considering for adjustment disorders:
- Changing or getting rid of the stressor
- Psychological therapy that facilitates stressor adaption
- Changing the treatment diagnosis for the stressor via medication or behavioural techniques.
When to see a doctor
Typically, the stressors that cause adjustment disorders are transient, and coping skills can be developed over time. However, occasionally the distressing experience may continue to affect the individual, or a new stressor may emerge. You must consult your physician if you find it challenging to get through each day. You can seek treatment to help you develop healthier coping mechanisms for stressful situations and gain a more positive outlook on life. In the case of children, talk to a paediatrician if you’re worried about their development or behaviour.
It is crucial to note that it is typical for an individual with adjustment disorders to avoid seeking treatment for their condition. They may lack the energy to do so or could become overwhelmed by their emotions. Therefore, if you or anyone you know seems to be showing symptoms of adjustment disorders, it is essential to seek professional care as soon as possible.