What is an Adjustment Disorder?
An adjustment disorder is similar to some types of depression because sufferers share symptoms of crying, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed. However, people with an adjustment disorder experience these symptoms in response to a trigger situation. The trigger situation that causes the disorder to form renders the sufferer unable to adjust or cope with the situation. A lack of ability to cope with a situation may be related to major conflicts at home, problems in a marriage, or struggles with finances. Younger sufferers may be having trouble in school or have recently lost a loved one.
While they can be brought on by major triggers, some people can also experience the disorder from minor disturbances in their lives. For example, a person may receive a negative performance report at work and start showing signs of the disorder.
If a person’s reaction to a certain trigger is severe enough, it could interfere with a person’s ability to complete necessary, everyday tasks. People suffering from this type of disorder often avoid work or school in order to avoid the trigger situation. They may fail to pay bills or meet important deadlines. Due to the crippling effects these disorders could cause, it may be possible for the sufferer to collect social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits.
Adjustment Disorder Symptoms
Since this disorder is based on certain triggers, symptoms may vary from person to person. While stress is a common occurrence in many lives, people with this type of disorder react more severely than most. The reaction is often so severe that symptoms may last up to six months or longer, depending on whether or not the trigger has been removed from the person’s life.
The following symptoms may be experienced:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Lack of sleep or trouble sleeping
- Lack of energy
- Heart palpitations
- Lack of concentration
- Negative changes in behavior, such as lashing out, recklessness, etc.
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Suicidal feelings, thoughts, and/or behavior
Symptoms are not exclusive to the list above. Depending on the type of adjustment disorder a person is diagnosed with, they may experience varying symptoms at varying degrees of severity.
Adjustment Disorder Diagnosis
The American Psychiatric Association created an adjustment disorder diagnosis criteria that many practitioners follow. The criteria is as follows:
- Emotional and behavioral symptoms present themselves within three months of a trigger situation taking place.
- The response to the trigger is either more severe than usual, or the response affects day-to-day tasks at work, school, or in social settings.
- Symptoms are not related to another diagnosis or from natural grief.
- The symptoms don’t last longer than six months once the trigger(s) have been removed.
If someone meets this diagnosis criteria, they are likely to have an adjustment disorder. Keep in mind, however, that there are several types, which vary by symptoms.
Types of Adjustment Disorders
Depending on the types of symptoms that present themselves, a person could be diagnosed with one of the following types.
Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety
The main symptom for this type is anxiety. This could leave a person feeling extremely worried, nervous, overwhelmed, and lacking in concentration.
Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood
Depression is the main symptom that comes with this type. Feelings of extreme sadness, lack of self-esteem, hopelessness, and a total lack of pleasure of activities that were once enjoyed are common.
Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood
People that are diagnosed with this type experience both depression and anxiety as well as all of the symptoms that come with them.
Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
This type presents behavioral symptoms. Reckless driving or initiating fights may occur with the disturbance of conduct.
Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct
If someone presents depressed, anxious, and behavioral symptoms, then they’ll be diagnosed with this type.
Adjustment Disorder – Unspecified
This type is basically a catch-all for those who present symptoms that fall outside of depression, anxiety, and disturbance of conduct. If a person responds so severely to a life event that it hinders them from functioning at work, at school, with family, and with friends, but doesn’t present depressed, anxious, or behavioral symptoms, they will typically fall into this diagnosis.
Difference Between Adjustment Disorder vs PTSD
While adjustment disorders and PTSD occur as a result of a stressor, they are not the same. PTSD develops after something extremely traumatic occurs. The symptoms of PTSD also tend to last longer. Both are results of stressors or triggers, but PTSD is a more severe disorder.
Difference Between Adjustment Disorder vs Depression
Depression is a symptom of adjustment disorders, but Major Depressive Disorder is different. An adjustment disorder that has depression as a symptom can only be diagnosed if it is not part of natural grieving. Major Depressive Disorder, however, can be diagnosed as a prolonged symptom of natural grieving, or plain sadness.
Difference Between Adjustment Disorder vs Acute Stress Disorder
Once again, stress or anxiety is a symptom of adjustment disorders, but is not the same as Acute Stress Disorder. The symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder don’t last as long as those of an adjustment disorder. Acute Stress Disorder symptoms begin within a month of the traumatic event occurring, rather than three, and only lasts anywhere between three days to one month, rather than six months.
Adjustment Disorder Causes
This disorder is triggered by a stressful situation or event. The causes of the stress can include, but are not limited to:
- Financial troubles
- Sudden changes like moving, divorce, or the absence of a loved one
- Health issues
- Relationship troubles
- Sudden disasters like a car accident
- Again, this list is not exclusive and other major life changes can trigger an adjustment disorder.
Adjustment Disorder Treatment
The main course of treatment is typically therapy. Many mental health professionals believe that if the person is able to identify the trigger and discuss how to best respond to the stress, it may help ease the symptoms. This type of therapy could be one-on-one with a mental health professional, with family, or with a support group.
In addition to therapy, some mental health professionals may recommend medication to help with sleep, ease depression, or subside anxiety. If these treatments are successful, the symptoms should diminish. However, if the trigger is not removed from the person’s life, there is a chance that the symptoms will return.
Can You Get Disability for an Adjustment Disorder?
While there are no Social Security Administration (SSA) listings directly related to these disorders, the symptoms that coincide with those of depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder may make it possible for a person suffering from an adjustment disorder to qualify for SSDI benefits.
The person must experience four or more depressive symptoms simultaneously on a regular basis for a period of no less than one year. Symptoms include:
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Sleep disturbances
- Excessive weight gain or loss
- Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
- Thoughts of suicide
Not only must a sufferer experience four or more of the symptoms listed above, but these symptoms must be severe enough to significantly reduce the ability of the sufferer to work, engage in social activities, or complete routine activities.
Unfortunately, most cases of these disorders do not present clear medical facts that make it apparent that a person would be eligible to collect SSDI benefits. When a person is not able to collect SSDI benefits by meeting the requirements in an SSA listing, they will need to be evaluated on an individual basis.
An evaluation is based on medical records, so it is important for these records to be accurate and complete. People with an adjustment disorder should schedule regular appointments with a therapist in order to increase their chances of having their disorder recognized as a reason to collect SSDI benefits.
Proof that a sufferer is unable to cope in any work environment for which they are qualified is necessary.