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Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders are often triggered by a major life event. The result can be debilitating and often leave individuals paralyzed with symptoms longer than most people would expect. Individuals going through the symptoms of this disorder often miss work because of the crippling effects. When individuals aren’t able to go to work, they aren’t able to collect a paycheck and bills start to pile up quickly. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can often be extremely helpful to individuals suffering from an adjustment disorder. While individuals will have to apply for benefits, the crippling effects of the disorder may qualify them for these benefits.

What is an adjustment disorder?

An adjustment disorder is a stress-related condition that manifests itself as massive anxiety, depression, or manic behavior. The best way to understand this type of disorder is to think about how someone would react to a stressful life event like getting fired from a job. Some people would be angry or depressed for a little while and bounce back after a short grieving process. However, those with adjustment disorders can’t cope with the event and will often spiral to the point of not being able to adjust to life after the event. This often means that the individual will fall into severe depression or anxiety. Some may even act out in extremely negative ways. Regardless of how the adjustment disorder presents itself in an individual, it’s a debilitating disorder that can prevent these individuals from performing day-to-day tasks.

The cause of adjustment disorders are often pretty easy to identify since it’s often triggered by a traumatic event. Some causes include the death of a loved one, losing a job, relationship problems or divorce, health issues, sudden changes to ones environment, natural disasters, financial stress, being an accident, or being a victim to a crime. While big life events can cause adjustment disorders, small events may also trigger this disorder. One rare occasions, individuals may not be able to identify what’s causing their symptoms. However, it’s still important that individuals suffering from symptoms are honest with their doctor about what’s causing the symptoms, or what events have happened since experiencing the symptoms, so that the cause can be properly identified and dealt with.

Symptoms of an adjustment disorder

Symptoms vary depending on the type of adjustment disorder. Common symptoms include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite or overeating
  • difficulty concentrating
  • panic attacks
  • impulsive behavior
  • destructive behavior
  • substance abuse
  • thoughts of suicide
  • fatigue
  • constant isolation
  • headaches
  • stomachaches

Keep in mind that doctors will look for severe versions of these symptoms. They will also try to rule out that these symptoms are in relation to another condition so that they can isolate it to an adjustment disorder.

Types of adjustment disorders

There are six known types of adjustment disorders:

  1. Adjustment disorder with anxiety: this type goes beyond a typical anxiety disorder. Individuals often exhibit extreme nervousness and worry. They’re very overwhelmed and often have trouble concentrating or recalling certain things.
  2. Adjustment disorder with depressed mood: individuals with this type often experience extreme sadness and hopelessness. They cry often and experience a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  3. Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct: individuals exhibit behavioral issues with this type. This can manifest itself as individuals getting into fights often or driving recklessly. Some may vandalize property or start missing work days.
  4. Adjustment disorder mixed with anxiety and depressed mood: individuals with this type exhibit both anxiety and depression.
  5. Adjustment disorder mixed with disturbance of conduct and emotions: individuals with this type have behavioral issues as well as anxiety and depression.
  6. Unspecified adjustment disorder: individuals with this type may not exhibit the symptoms of the other five, but may experience physical issues, issues with friends and family, or issues with work.

The way that doctors diagnose a specific type of adjustment disorder is by using the criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that is published by the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria states that the individual must exhibit the following:

  • The emotional or behavioral symptoms must show up within three months of the stressful event.
  • The individual must be experiencing more stress than would be expected in response to a stressful event and/or the stress must be causing significant problems in relationships or at work.
  • Symptoms must not be a result of another mental illness or part of the normal grieving process.

If an individual matches the criteria above, doctors will diagnose the symptoms as part of an adjustment disorder.

Treatment for adjustment disorders

The main treatment for those suffering from this disorder is talk therapy. This can be accomplished through a private session, a group session, or a session with family. Since this disorder is triggered by life changes or stressful events, it’s best to identify what’s causing the symptoms of the disorder and help the individual with stress management. However, this might not solely be the answer and medical professionals may accompany talk therapy with medication. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may help ease the symptoms enough for the individual to work through talk therapy. Having a good support system is very important for individuals suffering from this disorder. Since the event may occur more than once, having people around the individual who knows how to recognize the symptoms after they’ve been triggered can help them get the help they need sooner rather than later.

Once the symptoms are manageable, doctors may advise individuals to make some lifestyle changes. These may include:

  • Doing one thing everyday that brings enjoyment, fulfillment, and/or a sense of purpose.
  • Sleeping and eating well
  • Exercising
  • Journaling
  • Working on building up self-esteem

It is possible for individuals to work through this disorder, but it’s a tough road. Another event may trigger another episode, or the same event may trigger another episode, and the individual may have to work through the event all over again. This disorder can be debilitating, but having a strong support system and financial help during the episodes can help ease some of the burden.

Getting SSDI for an adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorders typically last around six months after the life event has occurred. To qualify for SSDI benefits, individuals must be experiencing symptoms for 12 months or longer. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates applicants based on the symptoms behind this disorder, not the disorder itself since it’s an emotional disability. For this reason, seeing a doctor and/or mental health professional regularly is very important for individuals wanting to apply for disability benefits. The notes within individuals’ medical records is probably the most important document that is part of the SSDI application. If the doctor records the symptoms, notates the severity, and includes dates with the notes, this could demonstrate that the individual has a disability.

Individuals who intend to apply for SSDI benefits should tell their doctor or mental health professional that they’re looking to apply for disability benefits. Since the SSA will be requesting the individual’s medical records, it’s important for the doctor to be aware so that they can hand over all of the proper documentation.

How we can help

Individuals applying for SSDI benefits and suffering from an adjustment disorder often have a hard time filling out the paperwork by themselves. It may be beneficial to have an experienced disability lawyer help with the SSDI paperwork. Our experienced lawyers at Osterhout Berger Disability Law understand what’s required to get approval from the SSA. We can help individuals suffering from an adjustment disorder get the financial help they need. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

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Learn More

Learn more about long Social Security Disability Insurance, as well as appealing denials and how an attorney can help. These five resources will cover the basics: