Some individuals develop emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to life stressors. When the symptoms produce distress that is beyond what would be expected or when the symptoms interfere with functioning, a Psychologist may diagnose the person as having an Adjustment Disorder. Between five and twenty percent of men and women in therapy have Adjustment Disorder as their primary diagnosis. Adjustment Disorders are one of sixteen types of clinical disorders treated by Psychologists.
An Adjustment Disorder may occur in response to a single event or multiple stressors. The stressor may be recurrent or chronic and may impact more than one individual. Even positive changes and events that are expected may be difficult to adjust to. Examples of life events or major stressors include the end of a relationship or loss of job, ongoing financial or health problems, getting married, moving, starting a family, experiencing or witnessing a natural disaster or freak accident, and living with chronic crime, poverty or hatred.
An Adjustment Disorder usually emerges within three months of the onset of the stressor and typically does not persist for more than six months after the stressor is no longer present. If the stressor or its consequences are long-lasting, the symptoms may become long-lasting or chronic.
Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder may include depressed mood, lack of motivation or interest, tearfulness, fears, worries, insomnia, irritability, forgetfulness, drinking, fighting, arguing, rule breaking, decreased productivity at work or school, and conflict in personal relationships. In severe instances there may be suicidal thoughts.
Treatment for Adjustment Disorders can be brief and very successful, especially if the individual was coping well before the life event occurred. Waiting to “snap out of it” rarely works. Therapy can help a person accept their reaction and understand how it came about. A therapist may utilize active listening and insight in order to help the person express a range of feelings and problem solve.
Many catch-phrases in the popular culture describe groups of individuals in unique circumstances which sometimes result in Adjustment Disorders:
Empty-Nesters struggling with changing their identity back to being a couple rather than parents.
The Sandwich Generation feeling over-burdened by the demands of kids and aging parents.
Gen-Y returning to live with parents after having lived away from home.
Baby-Boomers reconciling the discovery that they now are the establishment.
An Adjustment Disorder is not a sign of weakness: It takes a strong person to recognize that something is wrong and to want to do something about it.