An adjustment disorder is characterized by the development of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor (or stressors) occurring within 3 months of the onset of the stressor. A stressor is anything that causes a great deal of stress in the person’s life. It could be a positive event, like a wedding or purchasing a new home, or a negative event, like a family member’s death, the breakup of an important relationship, or loss of a job.
These symptoms or behaviors are clinically significant as evidenced by either of the following:
- Marked distress that is in excess of what would be expected from exposure to the stressor
- Significant impairment in social, occupational, or educational functioning
The stress-related disturbance does not meet the criteria for another specific mental disorder. Once the stressor (or its consequences) has ended, the symptoms do not persist for more than an additional 6 months. By definition, if your feelings related to the event last longer than 6 months, it will no longer qualify for an adjustment disorder diagnosis.
An adjustment disorder can occur at any time during a person’s life, and there is no difference in the frequency of this disorder between males and females. An adjustment disorder is diagnosed by a mental health professional through a simple clinical interview.
Adjustment disorders are often diagnosed when it’s not clear the person meets the criteria for a more severe disorder, or the actual diagnosis is uncertain. This diagnosis often gives the clinician time to further evaluate the client during additional therapy sessions.
Adjustment disorders are further categorized by the specific symptoms experienced:
- Adjustment disorder with depressed mood
- Adjustment disorder with anxiety
- Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood
- Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct
- Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct
- Adjustment disorder, unspecified
For more on treatment, please see general treatment of adjustment disorders.