Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder can impact adolescents. It’s natural for teenagers to have some degree of difficulty adjusting to big changes in their life. But when a teenager responds to a stressful event by displaying symptoms of depression—such as hopelessness and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy—over an extended period of time, this is known as adjustment disorder. Other names for this condition are “stress response syndrome,” “transitional disorder,” and “situational depression.”

What is Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is a disproportionately extreme reaction to a major life event. The types of adjustment disorders include adjustment disorder with depressed mood and adjustment disorder with disturbance of emotions and conduct. In both cases, symptoms generally begin within three months of the event and typically last for longer than six months after the event or situation.

Major life events that can trigger adjustment disorder include losing or changing a job, ending a relationship, being a victim of a crime, the death of a loved one, an accident, or surviving a disaster. Even a happy event, such as having a baby, can trigger adjustment disorder. Ongoing stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood or dealing with a serious illness, can also cause adjustment disorder. Symptoms include anxiety, frequent crying, sadness, substance use, and withdrawing from people and social activities. Adjustment disorder can also create physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, heart palpitations, changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, and fatigue.

One of the dangers of adjustment disorder is that it can lead to major depression if left untreated. For this reason, assessment and treatment is necessary—waiting until it gets better is not a safe course of action.

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