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30 July 2004

What is adjustment disorder?

We all know that stress can be bad for you. Apart from increasing your risk of developing heart disease and several stress-related physical conditions, stress can also cause the psychiatric condition Adjustment disorder.

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We all know that stress can be bad for you. Apart from increasing your risk of developing heart disease and several stress-related physical conditions, stress can also cause the psychiatric condition Adjustment disorder.

People with this disorder develop emotional or behavioural symptoms such as depression and anxiety in response to a significant stressor. The stressor may be a single event (e.g. termination of a relationship), or there may be multiple stressors (such as business difficulties or marital problems). Stressors may be recurrent or continuous (e.g. living in a crime-ridden neighbourhood).

The disorder is diagnosed according to the criteria set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). A person needs to meet the following criteria:

  • The development of emotional or behavioural symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor(s) occurring within three months of the onset of the stressor(s).
  • These symptoms or behaviours 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 or occupational (academic) functioning.
  • The stress-related disturbance is not due to another psychiatric disorder such as major depression or an anxiety disorder.
  • The symptoms do not represent bereavement.
  • Once the stressor (or its consequences) has terminated, the symptoms do not persist for more than an additional six months.

If these symptoms sound familiar, ask your general practitioner to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for an assessment.

 
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