What Is Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is a mental health diagnosis given to individuals who are experiencing symptoms of depression in reaction to stressful events. This diagnosis is often made in situations where an individual who is showing signs of depression, such as irritability, sadness, and frequent crying, can point to a specific stressful situation or set of stressful situations that contribute to his depressed mood. In some cases, mental health professionals will diagnose a client with adjustment disorder with depressed mood in situations where the clinician feels that a more serious diagnosis could unfairly impact the client's later life due to the stigma attached to some types of mental illness. The disorder is listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders I-V (DSM I-V).

Many people find themselves confronted with challenging life situations that are not easily managed. For example, family problems, relationship issues, and even relocation can trigger significant stress in some people. Not everyone is capable of managing stress in such a way that they are able to function well in their daily life. In such situations, an individual may react to the stress by feeling intense sadness and gloom. This depressed mood can contribute to the individual's inability to carry out daily living tasks as well as family and work responsibilities.


In cases where an individual's mental and emotional state causes him significant suffering, he may seek treatment from a mental health professional. Typically, the clinician will evaluate the client's mental state as well as the circumstances that the client believes are contributing to this condition. Unlike some stress- and anxiety-related conditions, a valid diagnosis of adjustment order with depressed mood will only be made in cases where the client and clinician can identify one or more stressors that triggered the client's current behavioral and emotional concerns. The clinician will also look for evidence of depression-related symptoms.

Some have criticized the diagnosis of adjustment disorder with depressed mood on the basis that it is a vague diagnosis that is applied to what is essentially normal human behavior. Advocates of the diagnosis, however, note that the diagnosis exists in part so that individuals who are having significant difficulty managing situational stress can receive mental health treatment that is covered by insurance and other health plans. In addition, the diagnosis of an adjustment disorder with depressed mood can protect a client who is going through a rough patch from being classified as mentally ill by potential insurers or other interested parties who might review her medical records.



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