Adjustment disorder (AD is also known as, AD reactive, or situational depression)

The occurs when an individual is unable to adapt to or cope with specific stress or a major life event. People with this issue normally have symptoms that depressed people do, such as a general loss of interest, feelings of hopelessness and crying, this syndrome is sometimes known as situational depression.

But not the same as major depression, the disorder is caused by an outside stressor and generally resolves itself the individual is able to adapt to the situation. Common characteristics of AD include mild depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress symptoms or a combination of all three.

Diagnosis of AD is quite common. Women are diagnosed twice as frequently as are men. Among children and teenagers, girls and boys are equally likely to receive this diagnosis.

  • Worry
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Crying spells
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Desperation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding family or friends
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed and thoughts of suicide
  • Reckless driving
  • Ignoring important tasks such as bills or homework
  • Performing poorly in school/work
  • Skipping school/work

Risk factors

Various factors have been found to be more associated with a diagnosis of AD  include:

  • younger age;
  • more identified psychosocial and environmental problems;
  • increased suicidal behaviour, more likely to be rated as improved by the time of discharge from mental healthcare;
  • less frequent previous psychiatric history;
  • a shorter length of treatment.

Those exposed to repeated  there are at greater risk, even if that trauma is in the distant past. Age can be a factor due to young children having fewer coping resources; children are also less likely to assess the consequences of a potential stressors.  

A stressor is generally an event of a serious, unusual nature that an individual or group of individuals experience. The stressors that cause adjustment disorders may be grossly traumatic or relatively minor, like loss of a girlfriend/boyfriend, a poor report card, or moving to a new neighbourhood. It is thought that the more chronic or recurrent the stressor, the more likely it is to produce a disorder. There are certain stressors that are more common in different age groups.


The treatment for adjustment disorder is psychotherapy. The goal of psychotherapy is relief and behaviour change. Anxiety may be presented as “a signal from the body” that something in the person’s life needs to change.

Treatment allows the patient to put their distress  into words rather than into destructive actions.  Counselling, psychotherapy, crisis intervention, family therapy, behavioural therapy and self-help group treatment are often used to encourage the verbalization of fears, anxiety, rage, helplessness, and hopelessness.