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PTSD has often been associated with soldiers because of their experience with the atrocities of war. However, the severe mental illness also affects individuals that suffer or witness violence or abuse. PTSD symptoms at times be confused with those of adjustment disorders. However, the two are significantly different. Several factors explain why PTSD is often not classified as an adjustment disorder but rather an anxiety disorder.
The similarity between PTSD and adjustment disorders is that they are as a result of stressor exposure (Hooley, Butcher, Nock, & Mineka, 2017). However, the similarity ends there. With the former, the stressor is traumatic. In other words, it is severe. However, with adjustment disorders, the stressor does not have to be acute or external to the standard human experience.
Another factor that distinguishes PTSD from adjustment disorder is the criteria for diagnosis. In other words, adjustment disorders do not meet the full criteria. In most cases, the symptoms appear within three months of exposure to the stressor. Negative emotional states such as sadness, horror, fear and guilt may happen. Adjustment disorders better explain the out of proportion marked distress and symptoms that may continue for up to six months. Another diagnosis such as PTSD is only considered if these symptoms persist more than the six months. PTSD is associated with a life-long change to the brain. Mostly, it continues long after the adjustment to the brain has occurred.
PTSD is in most cases associated with sensitivity to the sufferers. This sensitivity is the primary reason why it is under anxiety disorders rather than an adjustment disorder. Essentially, those who have PTSD have particular sensitivities to repeated mild traumas. The qualifying factor for PTSD is evidence of trauma. However, that does not mean that in adjustment disorders, there is a lack of stressor. It is just less significant.
More importantly, PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder when an individual experiences a traumatic event. In actual sense, the traumatic event is a major factor that makes PTSD be classified as an anxiety disorder. According to DMSV 5, a traumatic event is defined as exposure to severe injury, death or even sexual violence. As opposed to the anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder results from such events as a break up of relationship, death of a loved one, development of a serious illness, having an accident and living through a disaster among others.
Another factor for classifying PTSD as a stress disorder is the fact that the condition is characterized by ongoing anxiety and worry. Mayo Clinic (2017) views the stress disorder to be continuous in nature. It lasts for a longer period as opposed to an adjustment disorder.
Adjustment disorders as associated with significant life changes to individuals such as the break of a relationship. This change can negatively affect the person ability to do their daily activities properly. However, this effect only last for up to six months. It rarely goes beyond that period. The symptoms, both emotional and physical cannot be classified to be of a higher level.
PTSD is grouped as an anxiety disorder and not an adjustment mental illness because of several factors. Among them is the period it persists. In most cases, PTSD takes more than six months which is not the case with adjustment disorders. The latter does not exceed the three months mark. Other factors include sensitivity, experiencing a traumatic event among others.
- Hooley, J., Butcher, J., Nock, M., & Mineka, S. (2017). Abnormal psychology (17th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Publishing.
- Mayo Clinic. (2017). Adjustment Disorder. Mayo Clinic.