Difference Between Adjustment Disorder and Depression

Adjustment disorder and depression are two mental health conditions that are commonly confused with each other. While there are similarities between these two conditions, there are also significant differences. This essay will provide an overview of the differences between adjustment disorder and depression.

What is Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is a condition that occurs in response to a specific stressor, such as a major life change like a death in the family, divorce, or job loss. The symptoms of adjustment disorder typically begin within three months of the stressful event and can last up to six months after the stressor has been removed. Symptoms may include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and social withdrawal. The severity of symptoms depends on the intensity of the stressor and an individual's coping skills.

Symptoms − The symptoms of adjustment disorder include feeling hopeless and sad. Patients may also struggle to get a good night’s sleep or sleep too much. There are also often marked changes in appetite which can cause patients to either eat too much or too little food. Patients may often also feel irritable and tearful and stop doing what they would normally do.

Causes − In the case of adjustment disorder, the cause is always a major life stressor such as loss of income, loss of a job, severe physical illness, or a death in the family.

Diagnosis − Diagnosis can be made by psychologists or physicians who note the presence of the symptoms, which do not normally occur for longer than 6 months. A key part of the diagnosis is noting that the symptoms begin only after a large and major stressful life event has taken place.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Depression is a complex condition that affects different individuals in different ways, but it is a leading cause of disability and decreased quality of life in children and adolescents.

Depression can be caused by a variety of factors, including biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It is a serious mental health condition that requires professional treatment, as it can lead to decreased academic performance, behavioral problems, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Differences: Adjustment Disorder and Depression

One of the key differences between adjustment disorder and depression is the severity of the symptoms. While both conditions can cause significant distress, adjustment disorder tends to be milder and short-lived compared to depression. In adjustment disorder, the symptoms are usually limited to the specific stressor and do not significantly impact the individual's ability to function. However, in depression, the symptoms are more severe and can significantly impair the individual's ability to carry out daily activities.

Treatment for adjustment disorder and depression also differs. Adjustment disorder usually resolves on its own once the individual adapts to the stressor. However, if the symptoms persist or worsen, psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two may be recommended. In contrast, depression usually requires professional treatment, such as psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Treatment for depression may also involve lifestyle changes, such as exercise, diet, and stress management techniques.

The following table highlights the major differences between Adjustment Disorder and Depression −


Adjustment Disorder


Diagnostic Features

Adjustment Disorder’s diagnostic feature is an identifiable stressor and marked distress.

A diagnosis of “Adjustment Disorder with depressed mood” (also known as situational depression) is characterized by low mood, tearfulness, or hopelessness due to the traumatic event.

On the other hand, depression is mainly described as being sad, empty, and/or irritable; these feelings are accompanied by significant negative cognitive and somatic changes such as inability to concentrate and sleep.

DSM 5 Classification

Adjustment disorder is under Trauma-and-Stressor-Related Disorders

Depressive Disorders include disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, major depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and substance-induced depressive disorder


Adjustment disorder often resolves after some months and talk therapy often results to improvement. As compared to the other diagnoses, this is most probably the least stigmatizing of them all. On the contrary, depression may last longer, may have higher suicide risk, and has more complications.

On the contrary, depression may last longer, may have higher suicide risk, and has more complications.


In adjustment disorder, the emotional or behavioral symptoms manifested within three months of the onset of the stressor. Also, such symptoms do not last longer for more than an additional six months.

As for depression, the symptoms may manifest for at least two weeks (Major Depressive Disorder) or for two years (Persistent Depressive Disorder).


Mild cases of adjustment disorder often get better without clinical intervention as some achieve recovery after several lifestyle changes and joining support groups.

Others with severe conditions consult psychotherapists and may receive prescriptions for anxiety and depression.

Clinical depression often requires longer and more in-depth management. Some patients need to be hospitalized due to self-harm behaviors.

Aside from lifestyle changes, patients may be prescribed with antidepressants along with regular therapy


In conclusion, while adjustment disorder and depression share some similarities, there are significant differences between these two mental health conditions. Adjustment disorder is usually tied to a specific stressor and tends to be milder and short-lived compared to depression. In contrast, depression is not tied to a specific stressor, is more severe, and can significantly impair an individual's ability to function.

Treatment for adjustment disorder usually involves psychotherapy, while treatment for depression may require medication and psychotherapy. It is important for individuals to seek professional help if they are experiencing symptoms of either condition.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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