Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood

What is adjustment disorder with depressed mood?

An adjustment disorder with depressed mood means that you feel hopeless and sadder than would be expected after a stressful event. Many kinds of events can cause stress, such as moving, changing schools or jobs, marriage, the birth of a child, the loss of a relationship, or a severe illness.

What is the cause?

An adjustment disorder is a way of reacting to stress. When you have an adjustment disorder, you feel depressed starting within 3 months after the event, and get better in 6 months or less.

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Possible causes include:

  • The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Without the right balance of these chemicals, there may be problems with the way you think, feel, or act. People with this disorder may have too little or too much of some of these chemicals.
  • Depression disorders tend to run in families. It is not known if this is caused by genes passed from parent to child. It may also be that parents have a negative outlook, and children learn this behavior from the parents.
  • Problems in your family when you were growing up may increase your risk. If your family moved often, you were abused, or felt that you had no control, you may have trouble coping with stress.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Being more upset than would normally be expected
  • Being unable to deal with things at work, at school, or socially
  • Feeling sad and uninterested in things you usually enjoy
  • Having trouble falling asleep, waking up very early, or sleeping more than usual
  • Not being able to concentrate or remember things

Grief is an emotional reaction that follows the loss of someone or something of personal value. Grief is a natural response to loss, and is not considered an adjustment disorder. Feeling depressed and not caring about work or other usual activities are to be expected at such a time. Grief may last only a few days, or it may last many months.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your symptoms. He will make sure you do not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms.

How is it treated?

Adjustment disorders may be treated with therapy, medicine, or both.


Individual, group, and family therapy may offer support and help reduce fears and worries. Support groups are very helpful.


Medicine may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of depression and help you cope with stress.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area. 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.
  • 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, or 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, try to 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.

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

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-13
Last reviewed: 2014-11-17
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.
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