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Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood

What is adjustment disorder with depressed mood?

An adjustment disorder is a way of reacting to stress. An adjustment disorder with depressed mood means that you are more depressed than would be expected after a stressful event.

You may wonder why something is getting to you so much. Or your symptoms may seem unrelated to the event that caused them. It is normal to feel depressed, to cry, or to sulk during times of stress. But if you have an adjustment disorder, you are also less able to socialize or function on the job or at school.

How does it occur?

In an adjustment disorder, symptoms occur within about 3 months of something that stresses you. Examples may include moving, changing schools or jobs, the loss of a relationship, or illness in yourself or someone close to you. A happy event like marriage or the birth of a child can also be stressful.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of an adjustment disorder with depressed mood include:

  • being more upset than would normally be expected
  • being unable to deal with things at work, at school, or socially
  • feeling sad or hopeless
  • not feeling pleasure in things that used to interest you
  • developing symptoms within 3 months of a stressful event that don't last longer than 6 months after the end of the stressor or its consequences.

Grief after someone dies is not considered a symptom of an adjustment disorder. Depressed symptoms and a short-term decrease in pleasure and the ability to work or socialize are to be expected at such a time.

Depressed feelings on the anniversary of someone's death, a divorce, or other type of major loss can be symptoms of an adjustment disorder. Some people also have this reaction when they reach the same age as someone close to them who died.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or a mental health therapist can tell you if you have symptoms of an adjustment disorder. He or she will ask about your symptoms, any other medical problems and any drug or alcohol use. You may have some lab tests to rule out medical problems such as hormone imbalances and heart problems.

You may be suffering depression, a more serious disorder, if your symptoms include:

  • changes in weight or appetite
  • sleep disturbances (being unable to sleep or sleeping too much)
  • loss of energy
  • decreased sex drive
  • guilt or feelings of worthlessness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • agitation
  • thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else.

How is it treated?

Adjustment disorders may be treated with psychotherapy, medicine, or both. Some medicines that may be prescribed are antidepressants, antianxiety medicine and sleep medicines. Your healthcare provider will work with you to carefully select the best medicine for you.

Seeing a therapist can help. Support groups are very helpful.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Try to understand what made you start to feel this way. Understanding how stress has affected you is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider's instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

When should I seek help?

Seek professional help for yourself or a loved one if the symptoms don't go away after a few weeks, if the symptoms get worse, or if the symptoms keep you from being able to function as usual.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide, violence, or harming others.

For more information, contact the National Mental Health Association (NMHA). NMHA's toll-free Information Center number is 1-800-969-NMHA. Its Web site address is

Written by Daniel Rosen, CSW.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-17
Last reviewed: 2010-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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