An adjustment disorder is stress-related/stress-induced, whereby an individual experiences more stress than is considered ‘normal’ to a stressful event and this stress has a significant impact on their life, for example on their relationships, their work or education. A stressful event can be hard to define because everybody deals with stress differently. For some, a stressful event may be a minor change at work that disrupts the time they go on lunch, however for others this may not be stressful for them at all and has absolutely no impact.
Many can agree that there are events that we all find stressful such as moving home or the death of a family member, but the difference between those with an adjustment disorder and those without is essentially how long it takes them to adjust to these changes. Determining if someone has adjusted to any stressful changes is difficult but it can often be seen in their emotional and behavioural reactions and their emotional state. It is important to consider that we all may feel like we have an adjustment disorder because we have not bounced back after a stressful event as quickly as we thought, but for those with adjustment disorder, this is a common issue throughout their entire lives. Those who have been diagnosed with adjustment disorder, treatment can be brief and effective.
Symptoms of this disorder can be easy to spot but are often co-morbid with other disorders, and there are different types of adjustment disorder, and it can vary between individuals, and it hard to determine if it is just going to be temporary, so it is important to visit your GP. Those with an adjustment disorder:
- Can present as sad, anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or withdrawn.
- They may not enjoy things they normal enjoy, have trouble sleeping, eating or concentrating and have difficulty completing their normal day to day activities.
- Often, those with an adjustment disorder can have suicidal thoughts or behaviours and, in this situation, it is very urgent that the individual suffering discloses this to someone, get professional help or rings emergency numbers in the event of a crisis.
According to the diagnostic criteria, symptoms should start within three months of the trigger event and last for no longer than six months (unless the stressor is ongoing, and they may have chronic adjustment disorder).
I briefly mentioned above that there can be events that can trigger an adjustment disorder in some but not others, so there really is no ‘one fits all’ explanation. However, there are two different categories triggers can fall into:
Stressful life events
These put an individual at risk of developing an adjustment disorder. Some life events include but are not limited to:
- Relationship/marital problems (divorce); losing a job; loosing a loved one; financial hardship; near-death or traumatic events such as sexual assault or a car crash or problems at work/school.
These can affect the way you cope with stress and this can be embedded within your development if it happens during childhood.
- If during this time you have experienced significant stress such as abuse of any kind, lack of parental love/affection or instability, this can increase your risk of having an adjustment disorder later in life.
- Having other mental health disorders such as PTSD or depression and experiencing multiple stressful events at once can also increase the likelihood of developing an adjustment disorder.
Unfortunately, there are no concrete ways to prevent an adjustment disorder from presenting itself, but research has demonstrated that therapy, such as CBT, that teaches individuals to develop healthy coping strategies during times of stress can reduce the chances. Therapy is not necessary, and people are able to try and do this themselves, but I cannot comment on its effectiveness. So, the best piece of advice is if there is a trigger, especially if you can predict it, try and get ahead of this by rallying in some support, maximising what you know about coping strategies that work for you and remind yourself that there is light at the end of the tunnel.