Adjustment disorders are a set of mental health conditions that are common in the United States. These stress disorders can occur in people of all ages and backgrounds, but they are particularly prevalent among children and teens.
No single direct cause leads to an adjustment disorder. Adolescents who start a new school, have divorced parents or experience relationship problems can develop an adjustment disorder. Children who experience frequent and severe stress are at an increased risk of developing this condition.
According to the Child Mind Institute, signs of an adjustment disorder in children and teens include:
- Exhibiting irritability
- Vandalizing property
- Fighting with peers
- Isolating from family and friends
- Avoiding or skipping school
- Struggling academically
Children with an adjustment disorder may have trouble sleeping or recurring episodes of crying. They may also experience bouts of anxiety or depression. These symptoms typically start within three months of a stressful event. If symptoms persist beyond six months, then a more serious psychiatric condition may be present.
Teens with an adjustment disorder have an increased chance of developing depression and chronic anxiety. Many adolescents use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress or anxiety. However, regularly engaging in substance use to mask a mental health problem can lead to dependence or addiction.
Why Adjustment Disorders Are So Common Among Children?
Children are particularly susceptible to mental health disorders because their brains are still developing. This is why they are typically more impulsive and emotionally vulnerable than are adults.
Teens and children usually do not have the knowledge to effectively cope with intense stress, which can result in an adjustment disorder. As a result, many teens with stress disorders deal with behavioral problems or turn to drug or alcohol use to manage their psychological distress.
How to Help a Child With an Adjustment Disorder
Treatment for an adjustment disorder in children can involve cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, peer group therapy and medications. The amount of treatment a child receives depends on the severity of their adjustment disorder.
The University of Rochester Medical Center states that parents can help children with an adjustment disorder by:
- Having their child regularly attend therapy
- Working with medical professionals and schools to develop a treatment plan for your child
- Talking to and learning from other parents with children who experience an adjustment disorder
If your child has an adjustment disorder and their symptoms gradually worsen, contact a medical professional. If your child grapples with suicidal thoughts caused by an adjustment disorder, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.