The loss of a job, a diagnosis, divorce, or a bully at school – many of us have experienced some form of change or distressing event. Not everyone is stitched together with the same fibers of resilience, making it more difficult to rebound from the challenges that come their way. These people are more at risk for developing an adjustment disorder. Stemming from a single event or recurring distressing situation, people of all ages, genders, and cultures are at risk of an adjustment disorder, especially children and adolescents.
Adjustment disorders are characterized by extreme reactions or emotions to change or distress. There are six subtypes of the condition based on the predominant symptoms a person is experiencing. Although adjustment disorders are relatively brief, they are serious and, if left untreated, can develop into other mental health issues. Mindful Living Group is able to provide several integrative and therapeutic treatment options for adults, adolescents, and children suffering from an adjustment disorder.
What Are Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorders are the most frequently diagnosed mental health disorder. Due to its brevity and various subtypes, researchers estimate anywhere between five and 20 percent of the population may experience an adjustment disorder during some period in life. It’s likely fair to construe the percentage leans higher over the past few years of drastic change related to COVID-19. The DSM-V defines adjustment disorders as “the development of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor occurring within three months of the onset. The symptoms and behaviors must be clinically significant as evidenced by one or both of the following; marked distress that is out of proportion to the severity or intensity of the stressor and, or significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”
Commonly associated symptoms are anxiety, depression, and conduct disturbances. Children tend to demonstrate behavioral problems while adults struggle more with emotions. Adolescents tend to show symptoms that are a mix of emotional and behavioral. Parents and caregivers should keep their eyes open to destructive or self-harming behaviors commonly seen in adolescents suffering from depression, anxiety, and many other mental health disorders symptoms. Studies find 25 percent of teenagers experience or attempt suicide. The risk is higher in girls than in boys at this age. If your adolescent shows signs of self-harm or suicidal ideations, it should never be seen as attention-seeking. It is severe and requires being addressed immediately by an experienced, licensed professional.
What one person or child considers stressful, another may not — factors like temperament and past experience in life influence the likelihood of developing an adjustment disorder. Previous childhood experiences such as instability in the home or issues with bullies at school can predispose an individual to a higher risk for adjustment disorders. Other circumstances such as pre-exisiting mental health conditions or a high-stress job or daily routine could cause someone to be more susceptible.
Adjustment Disorders & MLG
The diagnosis of an adjustment disorder should always be made by a licensed mental health professional. This is important because it shares similar symptoms with other mental health disorders, and misdiagnosis may lead to further difficulties. No matter the reason for visiting with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor, a healthy therapeutic relationship is vital for effective diagnosis and treatment. Your mental health professional can conduct a thorough evaluation of your personal development, life events and history, behavioral patterns, and emotional changes. Identifying the stressor(s) responsible for triggering the adjustment disorder is essential for treatment. Some people may clearly understand the event, such as a death, job loss, move to a new city, a new job, or a health diagnosis.
Sometimes the stressful event may not be clear-cut, especially in children and adolescents. Depending on their age, children may not understand that their parents fighting, getting divorced, or moving into a new home is causing them distress. Adolescents may not recognize why they are acting out or depressed from the pressure to perform well in school and extracurriculars, and the daily challenges they face with their peers.
Six Adjustment Disorder Subtypes
The six subtypes are defined by the predominant symptom reactions each person expresses. Children and adults are both able to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and unusual, or disturbed, behaviors. Even though adults and children generally exhibit similar foundational symptoms of these symptoms and disorders, children tend to show or describe some traits differently.
Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood: Symptoms of depression – withdrawal, sadness, loneliness – are the dominant symptom reactions of this subtype. Children with this type may express crying spells, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, or lowered performance in school.
Adjustment Disorder With Anxiety: Excessive worry, fear, nervousness, and other anxiety symptoms are the governing symptoms of adjustment disorder with anxiety. In children, the anxiety may originate as separation anxiety. Children often mention having an upset stomach or headaches.
Adjustment Disorder With Mixed Anxiety And Depressed Mood: The third subtype is ruled by combining the two subtypes described above.
Adjustment Disorder With Disturbance Of Conduct: In general, an adult or child’s mood remains relatively the same, but their behaviors change. Children may become defiant towards authority figures, engage in vandalism, theft, or reckless, self-harming behavior. On the other hand, adults display behaviors that violate boundaries and the rights of others. It is not uncommon for adults to behave in ways that go against cultural norms, rules, and expectations.
Adjustment Disorder With Mixed Disturbance Of Emotions And Conduct: This subtype combines the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and disturbing conduct.
Adjustment Disorder Unspecified: The sixth subtype is when an individual’s reactions to a stressful event are clinically significant, but their specific symptoms do not fit under the above types.
Adjustment Disorder Treatment Options
The insightful, highly trained therapists and counselors at Mindful Living Group integrate natural wellness lifestyles with therapeutic modalities to help individuals suffering from adjustment disorders. Treatment for adjustment disorders is most effective when solution-focused and not drawn out over an extended time.
The first line of treatment for adjustment disorders is psychotherapy. This is the preferred method for people of all ages. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a leading psychotherapy method in treating many mental health disorders, including adjustment disorders. Because CBT is brief – approximately five to 20 weeks – and focuses on identifying negative patterns of thought and behavior with the goal to rethink and adjust them, it has proven highly effective. Skills and techniques learned during CBT can be used long-term and for many situations and moods.
Group and family therapy utilize psychotherapy, and some therapists may integrate a CBT structure into sessions. Family therapy is optimal for addressing stressful family situations, improving communication, and encouraging a better understanding of family members’ struggles. Group therapy is available for children and adults. However, the structure of the group may differ, each provides a place for creating a network of support and community of people who are able to empathize on personal levels. Peer support for children and adolescents is vital for healthy development. Group therapy is a place children can improve their social and interpersonal skills.
Coping, Recovery, Maintenance
The reality of life is we cannot avoid stress or change – not always at least. Learning healthy ways to cope with and build up resilience to stress is crucial in reducing the risk of developing an adjustment disorder. A healthy support network is essential for managing the effects caused by events such as a death, adjusting to a new job, or unexpected challenges. Many people are able to find a sympathetic support system through group therapy. Continuing sessions with your therapist or counselor can help manage your health.
Sticking with healthy routines that include proper sleep and exercise are beneficial in stress reduction, especially for children. Additionally, learning to create boundaries, for example, not overextending yourself at work or always agreeing to plans. Scheduling time for yourself is essential to your mental health. Other factors that may reduce the development or worsening of an adjustment disorder are diet and avoiding substances. For some people, diets high in sugar, carbs, and starch (which turn into sugar during digestion) cause an increase in anxiety. Substances such as alcohol may interact with medications or worsen depressive symptoms in some people.
Mindful Living Group acknowledges with empathy the distressing effects that may result from changes or troublesome events. There is no reason to be ashamed of how you were affected by a situation. Skilled therapists and counselors can help you move through and beyond the stressor(s) in your life. The individual, group, or family sessions can provide insight, encouragement and teach you the skills to build your resilience.
If you or your child has struggled to adjust to the negatives or positives of life, contact Mindful Living Group today to schedule your appointment.