We all know the stress COVID-19 is causing in our lives. It is exhausting. Now, as we see the second or third wave of the virus hit our communities, I am especially concerned for my adolescent and young adult clients who are dealing with the uncertainty of what their schooling will look like next month, or even, next week.

Some of my patients have returned to in-person learning and fear that schools will be closing down again with an increase in COVID cases and test positivity. Other patients have been learning from home since March and are worried about an eventual transition back to the classroom. They report feeling overwhelmed by thoughts of leaving the safety of their homes and being among their peers again.

Our young people have been asked to make very difficult adjustments over the last eight months with no end in sight. So, it’s hardly surprising that some are not able to cope.

Much has been written recently about adjustment disorder as a condition that is being observed by mental health professionals during the pandemic. This is a more severe and prolonged emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressor than what is thought to be normal.

People of all ages are diagnosed with adjustment disorders. However, teens and young adults often experience the disorder differently from adults, who tend to become more depressive.

Symptoms present differently from one teen to the next as well. Adolescents vary in their temperament, past experiences, vulnerability and coping skills. Their developmental stage and the capacity of their support system to meet their needs related to stress are factors that contribute to how they deal with a long-term stressor like COVID.

What To Look Out For With Adjustment Disorder

According to University Hospitals of Ohio, adjustment disorder commonly falls into six categories with the following symptoms:

  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Teens may feel depressed, tearful, and hopeless.
  • Adjustment disorder with anxiety. Symptoms may include nervousness, worry, and jitteriness.
  • Adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood. Teens have a mix of symptoms from both of the above subtypes (depressed mood and anxiety).
  • Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct. A teen may violate other people’s rights or violate social norms and rules. Examples include not going to school, destroying property, driving recklessly, or fighting.
  • Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct. A teen has a mix of symptoms from all of the above subtypes.
  • Adjustment disorder unspecified. A teen has reactions to stressful events that don’t fit in one of the above subtypes. These may include behaviors such as withdrawing from family and friends.

Symptoms of an adjustment disorder may look like other health problems or mental illnesses. As a parent, if you have a teen or young adult who is having a difficult time getting through the day and seems to be overwhelmed with events in their life, you should investigate further.

Try to get your child to open up and talk to you about what they’re feeling. Consider contacting their primary care physician, to rule out any medical issues, and reaching out to a mental health provider for an evaluation. The good news is, there are many treatment options that can help.

If you want to learn more about how to support an adolescent or teen who is struggling, give me a call at (303) 542-0180.

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