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May Mental Health Month Feature: Adjustment disorder

Written by Dr. Aisha Harris

Sometimes, we just do not feel like ourselves. During a new chapter or specific event, our mood changes, and we are not able to get back to being who we are. Mental health disorders impact more than 20% of people in the United States, but less than fifty percent of people with mental health disorders receive treatment. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health disorders and impact both children and adults. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we should discuss a mental health disorder that does not get enough attention.

Major depressive disorder occurs after more than two weeks of symptoms and general anxiety disorder occurs after more than six months of symptoms. There are many people who meet the criteria for depression and anxiety and receive treatment; whether medication, therapy or lifestyle changes. But sometimes people do not quite meet the criteria for anxiety or depression and are left in a limbo of uncertainty. Other times people do not seek medical advice and are going through mood changes they are not quite sure how to cope with.

Adjustment disorder is kind of an “in-between” mental health disorder when someone has various symptoms, often overlapping with depression and/or anxiety symptoms, that start within three months of a stressful event. Sometimes a person with adjustment disorder can feel better and improve, but other times the adjustment disorder may progress into another mental health disorder as time and/or more symptoms present.

If symptoms last more than six months after an event, then it is no longer considered adjustment disorder and the individual should be evaluated for other mental health concerns.

Adjustment disorder occurs after a stressful event causes a mood shift. Some symptoms include sadness, loss of concentration, irritability, poor sleep, worry and loss of appetite, which can alter how someone functions and interacts in their community. Life happens, and there is not a playbook of how to react and adapt to different stressful situations. But when your mood response negatively impacts how you take care of yourself or your responsibilities, this is a time to seek medical help and support from your community.

Events such as job transitions, moving to a new neighborhood, or anything that may cause a flare or increase in stress, are some specific moments that can lead into an adjustment disorder. Coping skills and a strong support system can help manage different symptoms after an event, but if symptoms escalate or become more severe, individuals can be diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder can present with symptoms and feelings that are difficult to balance that should be treated or monitored by a doctor.

Adjustment disorder treatment can include medications and/or therapy to help manage  symptoms and decrease stress and make someone feel more like themselves. Not every stressful event will lead to adjustment disorder, but it is important to know that when life presents challenges and stressful situations, our responses to them vary and impact how we function overall.

Seeking medical advice can help decrease adverse events such as self-harm and irreversible complications in our medical, personal, professional and social lives. Change will continue to happen in our lives and how we adapt is important.

Dr. Aisha Harris is a Flint native and board-certified family medicine doctor at Harris Family Health in Flint, Michigan where she cares for adults and children. Learn more about Harris Family Health by visiting www.harrisfamilyhealth.com. Feel free to submit health questions to Dr Harris via theflintcourier@gmail.com.

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