You or a loved one just received a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder (AD) from a behavioral health professional. What does it mean? And how is AD different from Anxiety Disorder or Depression?
Definition of Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment Disorder is a condition that can occur when you have difficulty coping with a specific, stressful life event - for example, a death or illness in the family, getting fired or laid off from a job, significant relationship issues like break-ups or divorce, or sudden change in social settings (more isolation, for example) due to the pandemic. Because of this, Adjustment Disorder can also be referred to as “situational depression.” The inability to adjust to stressful events like these can cause one or more severe psychological and/or physical symptoms.
According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), in order to be diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder, individuals must have emotional or behavioral symptoms within 3 months of having been exposed to a stressor (like those mentioned above), and symptoms must be clinically significant as shown by one or more of the following:
Marked distress that is out of proportion to the stressor
The symptoms significantly impair social or occupational functioning.
Stressors that cause AD can even reoccur over time, for example, seasonal business crises, or recurrent hospitalizations for an illness or disability.
Adjustment disorders can affect both adults and children. It’s estimated that each year, almost 7% of adults in the US are diagnosed with AD. These disorders typically resolve over time and with treatment by a behavioral health professional.
Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder
Symptoms vary depending on how the disorder manifests. Adjustment Disorder can be present with these symptoms:
Depressed mood, sadness
Feelings of hopelessness
Severe changes in emotions manifesting in things like frequent crying
Feeling or acting unusually argumentative
Changes in conduct (i.e., acting up in school or work)
Worry, nervousness, jitteriness
While the symptoms of Adjustment Disorder can be short-term and usually improve over time, they may resemble other psychiatric conditions, such as Major Depression or Anxiety Disorders. So, how can you tell the difference?
How to tell the difference between Adjustment Disorder, Depression and Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder often have a lengthy and consistent history of anxiety and excessive worry, whereas individuals with Adjustment Disorder only experience their symptoms in times of or in response to stress or change.
You can have both disorders, and Anxiety Disorder can be made worse by stressors such as change or adjusting to new routines. But if you have Adjustment Disorder, you’ll typically see a reduction in your anxiety as you adapt to the change or learn to cope with the stressor, while anxiety and related symptoms are continual for those with GAD.
Similarly, there are key differences between Adjustment Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, with the two differentiating factors being duration and cause. While Adjustment Disorder traditionally resolves within a matter of months, Major Depression tends to last much longer and only resolves with professional treatment. And while AD is triggered by a specific event, Depression seems to be caused by genetic and psychological factors, and cannot be attributed to a specific event.
Summary of the differences between Adjustment Disorder, Depression and Anxiety Disorder
Regardless of whether you have symptoms of Adjustment Disorder, GAD, or Depression, it is important to know that treatment is available and feeling better is possible. It’s important to start by having a behavioral health professional diagnose your condition, they can then help to manage your symptoms and learn coping skills. Like GAD and Depression, treatment for Adjustment Disorder is typically a combination of individual therapy, family therapy or group therapy, and to a lesser extent, medication.
Has a recent stressful event caused you or a loved one to have symptoms of Adjustment Disorder?
Telemynd is a national telebehavioral health provider covered with many insurers. You can access licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists from the convenience of your home. Click here to find your current insurance provider and request an appointment today!
Johns Hopkins Medicine: Adjustment Disorders
Merck Manual 2020: Adjustment Disorders