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Understanding Mental Disorder

Adjustment Disorder

Overview of Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is a mental health condition that develops in response to having to adjust to stressful events or major life changes. While it is expected to experience stress in response to an unexpected change, adjustment disorder is characterised by having a stronger reaction than expected to the type of event that happened. As a result, the normal process of adapting to the event(s) is disrupted. The difficultly adapting to change and your body’s response to stress can result in psychological and physical symptoms that impact your daily functioning. The symptoms of adjustment disorder develop within three months of the stressful event and generally do not last beyond six months. If symptoms do persist beyond six months, then the adjustment disorder is considered to be chronic and may develop into another disorder such as clinical depression, particularly if the stress is ongoing. Adjustment disorder is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder. The nature of the stressful event(s) and the symptoms of adjustment disorder are considered less severe then those that are experienced in individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

Have you been experiencing anxiety, sadness or hopelessness in response to a stressful event or major life change? Have you been feeling overwhelmed or not able to enjoy things that you use to derive pleasure from? Have you had difficulty concentrating or trouble sleeping? Have you been avoiding important things and responsibilities such as going to work or withdrawing from social support? If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms within three months of the stressful event or life change, you may be suffering from adjustment disorder and should seek help from a professional.

What causes Adjustment Disorder?

The primary trigger for an adjustment disorder is a significant stressful event or major life change such as losing a job, moving to a different city, being diagnosed with a disabling physical illness or ending an intimate relationship. A combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors can make an individual more prone to develop an adjustment disorder. Several factors may contribute to how an individual responds to stressful events such as one’s coping skills, the availability of a support network and one’s financial situation. Other factors can lead an individual to be more vulnerable to developing an adjustment disorder such as the presence of another mental health condition, a lack of a social support system or being subjected to traumatic experiences in the past.

Treating Adjustment Disorder

Talking therapy is usually recommended for the treatment of adjustment disorder. One common type of talking therapy that has been shown to be effective in treating this condition is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Typical CBT sessions involve talking through one’s problems with a certified clinician, with the aim of understanding how one’s own thoughts impact one’s negative emotions and behaviours. Patient and clinician then work together to alter these negative thought patterns and behaviours, in order to improve one’s feelings and experiences. Therapy sessions are typically aimed at supporting the patient in coming to terms with and adjusting to the stressful event or major life change, diminishing the accompanying symptoms of the condition and learning coping strategies to assist in managing stressful events in the future. While medication is not typically offered for the treatment of adjustment disorder, it may be used to help alleviate specific symptoms accompanying the disorder such as depression and anxiety.

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