Adjustment Disorders

Also known as: stress response syndrome.

What are adjustment disorders?

An adjustment disorder is an unhealthy, excessive behavioral or emotional reaction, usually in children or adolescents, to a difficult and/or stressful major life event, or change in life, which may be sudden or ongoing for some time (and normally occurs within 3 months of the event).

What causes adjustment disorders?

Children vary in their temperament, vulnerability and ability to cope with a stressful situation. Divorce, death (or birth), environmental catastrophes, moving to a different city, loss of a pet, or other life change and more, are some of the triggers that may result in adjustment symptoms.

What are the symptoms of adjustment disorders?

There are a number of ways children/adolescents present. Symptoms may be predominantly associated with:

  • Depressed mood (like tearfulness, sadness, hopelessness)
  • Anxiety symptoms (like worry or  nervousness)
  • A combination of depressed mood plus anxiety symptoms
  • Problems with the way they behave (like bullying, destruction of property, fighting, missing school)
  • A mixture of emotional and conduct symptoms
  • A variety of symptoms that don’t fit into any of the above presentations.

Symptoms may also suggest medical (for example skipped heartbeats) or psychiatric problems.

What are adjustment disorder care options?

Individual psychotherapy with a cognitive behavioral approach, family therapy, talk therapy, self-help peer groups, and possibly medications for a short time for a specific symptom, may all be offered.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: November 19, 2019 01:06 PM

Psychiatry for Children

The Pediatric Psychiatry team at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital uses a interdisciplinary and family-centered treatment approach for a variety of behavioral disorders and conditions.

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