Adjustment Disorder vs Depression: Understanding the Differences

Adjustment disorder and depression are two complex issues that often look a lot “alike” and can even overlap. It’s estimated that 2.7 million youths have major depression and a staggering 54% of adults do not treat their symptoms of mental illness.

In this guide, we’re going to discuss adjustment disorder vs depression in great detail, including:

  • Similarities
  • Differentiating between adjustment disorder and depression
  • Symptoms and triggers that may cause issues to worsen
  • Treatment options and approaches

Announcement: Having a comprehensive understanding of depression vs adjustment disorder will allow you to identify each mental health condition, understand their similarities and identify their differences. You’ll gain the knowledge to detect the disorder early and seek diagnosis and effective treatment options.

Adjustment Disorder vs Depression

Adjustment Disorder vs. Depression

If you’re undergoing major life changes, you may feel like you’re depressed and have a difficult time coping with your feelings. However, you may be experiencing adjustment disorder and not just a normal bout of depression.

Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is a mental health issue where the person reacts to a stressor in a severe manner. The disorder can cause a person to become impulsive or experience extreme mood highs and lows.

The condition is different from:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Symptoms of adjustment disorder often mimic major depression, but diagnosis is based on the cause of the feelings and the duration of them.


So, what’s the difference between adjustment disorder vs major depression? MDD, or major depressive disorder, is often not caused by stressors. Instead, the person may experience MDD due to:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental reasons
  • Psychological factors

Specific events or causes are not the main factors driving major depression like they are with adjustment disorder.

Can you have adjustment disorder and depression?

Yes. You can have adjustment disorder alongside a wide range of psychiatric issues, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, disturbance of emotions and many others. Working with a psychologist who has experience treating adjustment disorders and depression will help you find a treatment plan that works for you.

Can You Have Adjustment Disorder and Depression

Differentiating Between Adjustment Disorder and Depression

Since the two conditions overlap greatly, you’ll need to understand the following to diagnose the condition that you’re experiencing properly:

Triggering Events

The trigger that causes either condition is different. For example:

  • Adjustment disorder’s triggers involve life changes that you cannot adjust to, such as making a big move to a new location or going through a divorce.
  • Major depression just occurs. You cannot pinpoint the cause of the way that you’re feeling and there’s no one specific event that you believe caused your condition.

Most people who have depression do not know the cause, but this isn’t the only variance between the two conditions. Duration and persistence also vary.

Duration and Persistence

Depression is unique and may resolve in two weeks, a month, a year, or another time, based on the person. If you have an adjustment disorder, you can expect the condition to resolve within six months of your first episode.

Severity and Implications

MDD can cause suicidal behavior, changes in appetite, and interrupt your sleep – among a multitude of other issues. Adjustment disorder doesn’t include this same level of emotional and physical symptoms, although it’s not uncommon for a sufferer to:

  • Feeling hopeless or sad
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Defiance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Crying or strong bouts of emotions

Note: If there is depression and adjustment disorder at the same time, it can cause these emotional and physical symptoms.

Variations in Treatment Response

Therapeutic intervention can help a person with adjustment disorder overcome their feelings. A few of the treatments include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Support groups

A multi-prong approach to treatment often leads to the best outcomes. People with depression or those that show depressive symptoms alongside the disorder often benefit from antidepressant medications.

These medications include serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Depression disorders follow the same form of treatment. However, with adjustment disorder, the plan is often short-term, whereas it’s long-term for someone with depressive symptoms.

Risk of Misdiagnosis

Statistically, adjustment disorder is diagnosed in 3 times as many people as major depression. Major life events often have a staggering impact on a person’s life that they don’t realize until they start wondering if they have an adjustment disorder or depression.

Misdiagnosis of the two conditions is easy due to the vast similarities between the two.

Oner risk, which is the topic of discussion in research studies, is that a person with adjustment disorder may begin to misuse substances because they do not understand why they’re experiencing the feelings that they have.

Depression vs adjustment disorder is so similar that there is a risk of misdiagnosis.

Can Adjustment Disorder Lead To Major Depression?

Possibly, and this is one of the concerns of being misdiagnosed. Even if you don’t have MDD, you may develop it due to improper treatment of your adjustment disorder. The risk of misdiagnosis includes developing:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders

You may also begin to abuse substances, compounding the issues that you have and making your mental health even worse.

Developing healthy habits, regardless of your diagnosis, can help you overcome either condition. Sufferers often find that remaining active and spending time with supportive loved ones or family members can help bring up their mood.

Focusing on steady progress and taking each day one at a time can help you cope with the symptoms of adjustment disorder until they resolve.

If you don’t find your symptoms improving, sit down with your therapist and discuss your concerns to find a course of treatment that will work well for you.

Adjustment Disorder Vs Major Depression

Wrapping Up

Adjustment disorder and depression can both have a major negative impact on a person’s life. You can also have both conditions at the same time, making a diagnosis without the guidance of a mental health professional even more challenging.

A psychiatric evaluation is your best option for diagnosis and will include:

  • Symptom review
  • Discussion on your thoughts and feelings
  • Better understanding of your behavior patterns

Adjustment disorder vs depression treatment options are very similar, but you do need professional guidance. The right treatment plan can help you begin to manage your symptoms faster and find the long-term relief that you deserve.