When a stressful event in someone's life prompts a lengthy and extremely or excessively negative reaction, that person can be considered to be suffering from adjustment disorder, which is typified by anxiety, difficulty moving forward, and reckless behavior.
Adjustment disorder, sometimes referred to as situational depression, is an abnormal and excessive reaction to an identifiable life stressor. The reaction is more severe than would normally be expected and can result in significant impairment in social, occupational, or academic functioning.
The extreme response may be linked to a single event—a flood or fire, marriage, divorce, starting school, losing a job or starting a new job—or to the concurrence of multiple events, such as marital problems coinciding with difficult business challenges. Stressors may be recurrent events, such as a child repeatedly witnessing his or her parents fighting, or continuous, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
Adjustment disorder often brings on depressed mood, anxiety, norm-violating or inappropriate conduct, or other maladaptive reactions such as problems at work or school, physical complaints, or social isolation.
Adjustment disorder is associated with increased risk of suicidal behavior and substance abuse, as well as the prolonging of medical disorders or interference with medical treatment. When it persists, it may progress into a more severe condition such as major depressive disorder.
Adjustment disorders are common; the percentage of individuals receiving outpatient mental health treatment whose principal diagnosis is adjustment disorder ranges from 5 to 20 percent. In hospital psychiatric consultation settings, it may be the most common diagnosis, frequently approaching 50 percent.