Adjustment disorder is characterized as a short-term condition that occurs when an individual experiences significant challenges coping with, or adjusting to, a source of stress that include but is not limited to, a major life change, loss, illness, breakup, or distressing event.

Responses to trauma and distressing events are just as unique as people, hence, each person’s perception, reaction, and response to a perceived distressing event will be unique and different. Persons struggling with adjustment issues and or adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome often have some of the symptoms of clinical depression, such as tearfulness, sadness, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, and loss of interest in things once enjoyed, self-isolating, etc. In addition to being referred to as stress response syndrome, adjustment disorder is sometimes informally called “situational depression.” The word “situational” is key as it implies sadness can be positively correlated to a situation, place, or event. Unlike major depressive disorder, adjustment disorder doesn’t involve as many of the physical and emotional symptoms of clinical depression, such as changes in eating and sleeping habits, self-isolating behaviors, or decrease in energy levels. Persons with adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome have difficulty understanding and processing a traumatizing/distressing event leading to prolonged distress, frustration and sadness.

Potential Triggers for Adjustment Disorder/Stress Response Syndrome Can Include:

  • Death of a loved one or close friend
  • End of a romantic relationship
  • Being the victim of a crime or witnessing a violent crime
  • Rape or other sexual assault
  • Serious medical illness
  • Terrorist acts
  • Natural Disasters
  • Loss of job or changing careers
  • Major life changes

Unfortunately, some people will develop an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome in response to an event or situation they are unable to process in a healthy manner. Symptoms related to distressing events generally begin within three months following the event. However, most responses rarely last more than 6 months after the event or situation. When symptoms last longer than 6 months there may be other issues or challenges to blame such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. PTSD usually lasts much longer than adjustment disorder, can create problems or interferences with functioning, cognition issues, memory, social and personal relationships, etc. Individuals with an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome, usually experience short-term symptoms resulting in distress and discomfort, which are usually brief and non-debilitating.