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Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is a specific type of adjustment disorder. Read about the symptoms of adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is a common type of adjustment disorder. All adjustment disorders are caused by one or more stressors, big or small, that negatively impact someone’s life. Adjustment disorders are quite personal; an event that decreases one person’s ability to cope might not faze another person at all. That second person, though, might have difficulty coping with a different event. In adjustment disorders, people’s reactions are unique as well. Sometimes, reactions are similar to depression, so the person is said to have adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the accepted authority on mental health disorders, discusses adjustment disorder with depressed mood as one of six types of adjustment disorders. When someone experiences adjustment disorder, he/she doesn’t receive a vague diagnosis of adjustment disorder alone; instead, the diagnosis is categorized by type according to the person’s unique symptoms.

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is diagnosed when someone’s symptoms are primarily depressive in nature.

Reaction to a life change or another type of stressor can lead to a subjective, personal experience of depression. The symptoms of adjustment disorder with depressed mood can include

  • Low mood, sadness
  • Increased tearfulness, frequent crying spells
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Anhedonia—loss of a sense of pleasure
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling of loneliness and isolation
  • Suicidal ideation or behavior

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood can feel dark and heavy, as though the stressor zapped one’s energy and joy. This can make dealing with the stressor difficult.

Difference between Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood and Major Depression

It can be tricky to differentiate adjustment disorder with depressed mood from depressive disorders. The symptoms are so similar that occasionally adjustment disorder with depression is referred to as situational depression.

The key to distinguishing between the two mental health conditions is the word “situational.” Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is conditional upon a particular situation, a life change or a stressor of some sort. The stressor can be of any severity, but it must cause disruption to the person’s life. When the disruption is experienced as depression, it’s adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

When depressive symptoms occur without a stressor or before a stressor has occurred, the diagnosis is a depressive disorder such as major depressive disorder. Life doesn’t always happen in a neat, orderly fashion, and sometimes multiple stressors build up slowly; thus, it can sometimes be hard to determine which came first, the stressor or the depressive symptoms. In such cases, the level of the depressive symptoms can provide a clue. The more symptoms of depression a person has and the longer they last, the more likely it is that he/she has a depressive disorder rather than adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood is Temporary and Treatable

If you’ve experienced one or more stressors and now are feeling symptoms of depression, it could quite possibly be adjustment disorder with depressed mood. A visit to a doctor or mental health professional will help determine this.

The wonderful news about adjustment disorder with depressed mood is that it can be overcome. Effective adjustment disorder treatment exists, and it involves addressing the stressor as well as treating the symptoms, in this case, the symptoms of depression.

Once the stressor is removed or the person has learned to adjust to and cope with it, adjustment disorder with depressed mood subsides within six months. Adjustment disorder with depressed mood won’t forever negatively impact one’s life.

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2016, February 11). Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/ptsd-and-stress-disorders/adjustment-disorder/adjustment-disorder-with-depressed-mood

Last Updated: 2018, October 24

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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