What is Neurosis?

Introduction

Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving chronic distress, but neither delusions nor hallucinations.

The term is no longer used by the professional psychiatric community in the United States, having been eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980 with the publication of DSM III. However, it is still used in the ICD-10 Chapter V F40-48.

Neurosis should not be mistaken for psychosis, which refers to a loss of touch with reality. Nor should it be mistaken for neuroticism, a fundamental personality trait proposed in the Big Five personality traits theory.

Etymology

The term is derived from the Greek word neuron (νεῦρον, ‘nerve’) and the suffix -osis (-ωσις, ‘diseased’ or ‘abnormal condition’).

The term neurosis was coined by Scottish doctor William Cullen in 1769 to refer to “disorders of sense and motion” caused by a “general affection of the nervous system.” Cullen used the term to describe various nervous disorders and symptoms that could not be explained physiologically. Physical features, however, were almost inevitably present, and physical diagnostic tests, such as exaggerated knee-jerks, loss of the gag reflex and dermatographia, were used into the 20th century. The meaning of the term was redefined by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud over the early and middle 20th century, and has continued to be used in psychology and philosophy.

The DSM eliminated the neurosis category in 1980, because of a decision by its editors to provide descriptions of behaviour rather than descriptions of hidden psychological mechanisms. This change has been controversial. Likewise, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, neurosis is “no longer used in psychiatric diagnosis.”

Symptoms and Causes

Neurosis may be defined simply as a “poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.” There are many different neuroses, including:

According to C. George Boeree, professor emeritus at Shippensburg University, the symptoms of neurosis may involve:

… anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.

Jungian Theory

Carl Jung found his approach particularly effective for patients who are well adjusted by social standards but are troubled by existential questions. Jung claims to have “frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life”.[8]: 140  Accordingly, the majority of his patients “consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith”.  A contemporary person, according to Jung,

…is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by ‘powers’ that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food — and, above all, a large array of neuroses.

Jung found that the unconscious finds expression primarily through an individual’s inferior psychological function, whether it is thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition. The characteristic effects of a neurosis on the dominant and inferior functions are discussed in his Psychological Types. Jung also found collective neuroses in politics: “Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic.”

Psychoanalytic Theory

According to psychoanalytic theory, neuroses may be rooted in ego defence mechanisms, though the two concepts are not synonymous. Defence mechanisms are a normal way of developing and maintaining a consistent sense of self (i.e. an ego). However, only those thoughts and behaviours that produce difficulties in one’s life should be called neuroses.

A neurotic person experiences emotional distress and unconscious conflict, which are manifested in various physical or mental illnesses; the definitive symptom being anxiety. Neurotic tendencies are common and may manifest themselves as acute or chronic anxiety, depression, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, a phobia, or a personality disorder.

Horney’s Theory

In her final book, Neurosis and Human Growth, Karen Horney lays out a complete theory of the origin and dynamics of neurosis. In her theory, neurosis is a distorted way of looking at the world and at oneself, which is determined by compulsive needs rather than by a genuine interest in the world as it is. Horney proposes that neurosis is transmitted to a child from their early environment and that there are many ways in which this can occur:

When summarized, they all boil down to the fact that the people in the environment are too wrapped up in their own neuroses to be able to love the child, or even to conceive of him as the particular individual he is; their attitudes toward him are determined by their own neurotic needs and responses.

The child’s initial reality is then distorted by their parents’ needs and pretences. Growing up with neurotic caretakers, the child quickly becomes insecure and develops basic anxiety. To deal with this anxiety, the child’s imagination creates an idealized self-image:

Each person builds up his personal idealized image from the materials of his own special experiences, his earlier fantasies, his particular needs, and also his given faculties. If it were not for the personal character of the image, he would not attain a feeling of identity and unity. He idealizes, to begin with, his particular “solution” of his basic conflict: compliance becomes goodness, love, saintliness; aggressiveness becomes strength, leadership, heroism, omnipotence; aloofness becomes wisdom, self-sufficiency, independence. What—according to his particular solution—appear as shortcomings or flaws are always dimmed out or retouched.

Once they identify themselves with their idealised image, a number of effects follow. They will make claims on others and on life based on the prestige they feel entitled to because of their idealized self-image. They will impose a rigorous set of standards upon themselves in order to try to measure up to that image. They will cultivate pride, and with that will come the vulnerabilities associated with pride that lacks any foundation. Finally, they will despise themselves for all their limitations. Vicious circles will operate to strengthen all of these effects.

Eventually, as they grow to adulthood, a particular “solution” to all the inner conflicts and vulnerabilities will solidify. They will be either:

  • Expansive, displaying symptoms of narcissism, perfectionism, or vindictiveness.
  • Self-effacing and compulsively compliant, displaying symptoms of neediness or co-dependence.
  • Resigned, displaying schizoid tendencies.

In Horney’s view, mild anxiety disorders and full-blown personality disorders all fall under her basic scheme of neurosis as variations in the degree of severity and in the individual dynamics. The opposite of neurosis is a condition Horney calls self-realisation, a state of being in which the person responds to the world with the full depth of their spontaneous feelings, rather than with anxiety-driven compulsion. Thus the person grows to actualise their inborn potentialities. Horney compares this process to an acorn that grows and becomes a tree: the acorn has had the potential for a tree inside it all along.

What is the Diathesis-Stress Model?

Introduction

The diathesis-stress model, also known as the vulnerability-stress model, is a psychological theory that attempts to explain a disorder, or its trajectory, as the result of an interaction between a predispositional vulnerability, the diathesis, and a stress caused by life experiences. The term diathesis derives from the Greek term (διάθεσις) for a predisposition, or sensibility. A diathesis can take the form of genetic, psychological, biological, or situational factors. A large range of differences exists among individuals’ vulnerabilities to the development of a disorder.

The diathesis, or predisposition, interacts with the individual’s subsequent stress response. Stress is a life event or series of events that disrupts a person’s psychological equilibrium and may catalyse the development of a disorder. Thus the diathesis-stress model serves to explore how biological or genetic traits (diatheses) interact with environmental influences (stressors) to produce disorders such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. The diathesis-stress model asserts that if the combination of the predisposition and the stress exceeds a threshold, the person will develop a disorder. The use of the term diathesis in medicine and in the specialty of psychiatry dates back to the 1800s; however, the diathesis-stress model was not introduced and used to describe the development of psychopathology until it was applied to explaining schizophrenia in the 1960s by Paul Meehl.

The diathesis-stress model is used in many fields of psychology, specifically for studying the development of psychopathology. It is useful for the purposes of understanding the interplay of nature and nurture in the susceptibility to psychological disorders throughout the lifespan. Diathesis-stress models can also assist in determining who will develop a disorder and who will not. For example, in the context of depression, the diathesis-stress model can help explain why Person A may become depressed while Person B does not, even when exposed to the same stressors. More recently, the diathesis-stress model has been used to explain why some individuals are more at risk for developing a disorder than others. For example, children who have a family history of depression are generally more vulnerable to developing a depressive disorder themselves. A child who has a family history of depression and who has been exposed to a particular stressor, such as exclusion or rejection by his or her peers, would be more likely to develop depression than a child with a family history of depression that has an otherwise positive social network of peers. The diathesis-stress model has also served as useful in explaining other poor (but non-clinical) developmental outcomes.

Protective factors, such as positive social networks or high self-esteem, can counteract the effects of stressors and prevent or curb the effects of disorder. Many psychological disorders have a window of vulnerability, during which time an individual is more likely to develop disorder than others. Diathesis-stress models are often conceptualised as multi-causal developmental models, which propose that multiple risk factors over the course of development interact with stressors and protective factors contributing to normal development or psychopathology. The differential susceptibility hypothesis is a recent theory that has stemmed from the diathesis-stress model.

Refer to Differential Susceptibility Hypothesis.

Diathesis

The term diathesis is synonymous with vulnerability, and variants such as “vulnerability-stress” are common within psychology. A vulnerability makes it more or less likely that an individual will succumb to the development of psychopathology if a certain stress is encountered. Diatheses are considered inherent within the individual and are typically conceptualised as being stable, but not unchangeable, over the lifespan. They are also often considered latent (i.e. dormant), because they are harder to recognise unless provoked by stressors.

Diatheses are understood to include genetic, biological, physiological, cognitive, and personality-related factors. Some examples of diatheses include genetic factors, such as abnormalities in some genes or variations in multiple genes that interact to increase vulnerability. Other diatheses include early life experiences such as the loss of a parent, or high neuroticism. Diatheses can also be conceptualised as situational factors, such as low socio-economic status or having a parent with depression.

Stress

Stress can be conceptualised as a life event that disrupts the equilibrium of a person’s life. For instance, a person may be vulnerable to become depressed, but will not develop depression unless they are exposed to a specific stress, which may trigger a depressive disorder. Stressors can take the form of a discrete event, such the divorce of parents or a death in the family, or can be more chronic factors such as having a long-term illness, or ongoing marital problems. Stresses can also be related to more daily hassles such as school assignment deadlines. This also parallels the popular (and engineering) usage of stress, but note that some literature defines stress as the response to stressors, especially where usage in biology influences neuroscience.

It has been long recognised that psychological stress plays a significant role in understanding how psychopathology develops in individuals. However, psychologists have also identified that not all individuals who are stressed, or go through stressful life events, develop a psychological disorder. To understand this, theorists and researchers explored other factors that affect the development of a disorder and proposed that some individuals under stress develop a disorder and others do not. As such, some individuals are more vulnerable than others to develop a disorder once stress has been introduced. This led to the formulation of the diathesis-stress model.

Genetics

Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a temperamental or personality trait involving “an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli”. The trait is characterised by “a tendency to ‘pause to check’ in novel situations, greater sensitivity to subtle stimuli, and the engagement of deeper cognitive processing strategies for employing coping actions, all of which is driven by heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative”.

Sensory processing sensitivity captures sensitivity to environment in a heritable, evolutionary-conserved trait, associated with increased information processing in the brain. Moderating sensitivity to environments in a for-better-and-for-worse fashion. Interaction with negative experiences increases risk for psychopathology. Whereas interaction with positive experiences (including interventions), increases positive outcomes. Mast cells are long-lived tissue-resident cells with an important role in many inflammatory settings including host defence to parasitic infection and in allergic reactions. Stress is known to be a mast cell activator.

There is evidence that children exposed to prenatal stress may experience resilience driven by epigenome-wide interactions.” Early life stress interactions with the epigenome show potential mechanisms driving vulnerability towards psychiatric illness. ancestral stress alters lifetime mental health trajectories via epigenetic regulation.

Carriers of congenital adrenal hyperplasia have a predeposition to stress, due to the unique nature of this gene. True rates of prevalence are not known but common genetic variants of the human Steroid 21-Hydroxylase Gene (CYP21A2) are related to differences in circulating hormone levels in the population.

Psychological distress is a known feature of generalised joint hypermobility (gJHM), as well as of its most common syndromic presentation, namely Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, hypermobility type (a.k.a. joint hypermobility syndrome – JHS/EDS-HT), and significantly contributes to the quality of life of affected individuals. Interestingly, in addition to the confirmation of a tight link between anxiety and gJHM, preliminary connections with depression, attention deficit (and hyperactivity) disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder were also found.

Protective Factors

Protective factors, while not an inherent component of the diathesis-stress model, are of importance when considering the interaction of diatheses and stress. Protective factors can mitigate or provide a buffer against the effects of major stressors by providing an individual with developmentally adaptive outlets to deal with stress. Examples of protective factors include a positive parent-child attachment relationship, a supportive peer network, and individual social and emotional competence.

Throughout the Lifespan

Many models of psychopathology generally suggest that all people have some level of vulnerability towards certain mental disorders, but posit a large range of individual differences in the point at which a person will develop a certain disorder. For example, an individual with personality traits that tend to promote relationships such as extroversion and agreeableness may engender strong social support, which may later serve as a protective factor when experiencing stressors or losses that may delay or prevent the development of depression. Conversely, an individual who finds it difficult to develop and maintain supportive relationships may be more vulnerable to developing depression following a job loss because they do not have protective social support. An individual’s threshold is determined by the interaction of diatheses and stress.

Windows of vulnerability for developing specific psychopathologies are believed to exist at different points of the lifespan. Moreover, different diatheses and stressors are implicated in different disorders. For example, breakups and other severe or traumatic life stressors are implicated in the development of depression. Stressful events can also trigger the manic phase of bipolar disorder and stressful events can then prevent recovery and trigger relapse. Having a genetic disposition for becoming addicted and later engaging in binge drinking in college are implicated in the development of alcoholism. A family history of schizophrenia combined with the stressor of being raised in a dysfunctional family raises the risk of developing schizophrenia.

Diathesis-stress models are often conceptualised as multi-causal developmental models, which propose that multiple risk factors over the course of development interact with stressors and protective factors contributing to normal development or psychopathology. For example, a child with a family history of depression likely has a genetic vulnerability to depressive disorder. This child has also been exposed to environmental factors associated with parental depression that increase their vulnerability to developing depression as well. Protective factors, such as strong peer network, involvement in extracurricular activities, and a positive relationship with the non-depressed parent, interact with the child’s vulnerabilities in determining the progression to psychopathology versus normative development.

Some theories have branched from the diathesis-stress model, such as the differential susceptibility hypothesis, which extends the model to include a vulnerability to positive environments as well as negative environments or stress. A person could have a biological vulnerability that when combined with a stressor could lead to psychopathology (diathesis-stress model); but that same person with a biological vulnerability, if exposed to a particularly positive environment, could have better outcomes than a person without the vulnerability.

What is Salutogenesis?

Introduction

Salutogenesis is the origins of health and focuses on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis).

More specifically, the “salutogenic model” was originally concerned with the relationship between health, stress, and coping through a study of holocaust survivors. Despite going through the dramatic tragedy of the holocaust, some survivors were able to thrive later in life. The discovery that there must be powerful health causing factors led to the development of salutogenesis. The term was coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. The salutogenic question posed by Aaron Antonovsky is, “How can this person be helped to move toward greater health?”

Antonovsky’s theories reject the “traditional medical-model dichotomy separating health and illness”. He described the relationship as a continuous variable, what he called the “health-ease versus dis-ease continuum”. Salutogenesis now encompasses more than the origins of health and has evolved to be about multidimensional causes of higher levels of health. Models associated with salutogenesis generally include wholistic approaches related to at least the physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, vocational, and environmental dimensions. A comparison of the salutogenic model with the traditional pathogenic model is provided in the below video.

Derivation

The word “salutogenesis” comes from the Latin salus = health and the Greek genesis = origin. Antonovsky developed the term from his studies of “how people manage stress and stay well” (unlike pathogenesis which studies the causes of diseases). He observed that stress is ubiquitous, but not all individuals have negative health outcomes in response to stress. Instead, some people achieve health despite their exposure to potentially disabling stress factors.

In his 1979 book, Health, Stress and Coping, Antonovsky described a variety of influences that led him to the question of how people survive, adapt, and overcome in the face of even the most punishing life-stress experiences. In his 1987 book, Unraveling the Mysteries of Health, he focused more specifically on a study of women and aging; he found that 29% of women who had survived Nazi concentration camps had positive emotional health, compared to 51% of a control group. His insight was that 29% of the survivors were not emotionally impaired by the stress. Antonovsky wrote: “this for me was the dramatic experience that consciously set me on the road to formulating what I came to call the ‘salutogenic model’.”

In salutogenic theory, people continually battle with the effects of hardship. These ubiquitous forces are called generalised resource deficits (GRDs). On the other hand, there are generalised resistance resources (GRRs), which are all of the resources that help a person cope and are effective in avoiding or combating a range of psychosocial stressors. Examples are resources such as money, ego-strength, and social support.

Generalised resource deficits will cause the coping mechanisms to fail whenever the sense of coherence is not robust to weather the current situation. This causes illness and possibly even death. However, if the sense of coherence is high, a stressor will not necessarily be harmful. But it is the balance between generalised resource deficits and resources that determines whether a factor will be pathogenic, neutral, or salutary.

Antonovsky’s formulation was that the generalised resistance resources enabled individuals to make sense of and manage events. He argued that over time, in response to positive experiences provided by successful use of different resources, an individual would develop an attitude that was “in itself the essential tool for coping”.

Sense of Coherence

The “sense of coherence” is a theoretical formulation that provides a central explanation for the role of stress in human functioning. “Beyond the specific stress factors that one might encounter in life, and beyond your perception and response to those events, what determines whether stress will cause you harm is whether or not the stress violates your sense of coherence.” Antonovsky defined Sense of Coherence as:

“a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling of confidence that (1) the stimuli deriving from one’s internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable and explicable; (2) the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by these stimuli; and (3) these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.”

In his formulation, the sense of coherence has three components:

  • Comprehensibility: a belief that things happen in an orderly and predictable fashion and a sense that you can understand events in your life and reasonably predict what will happen in the future.
  • Manageability: a belief that you have the skills or ability, the support, the help, or the resources necessary to take care of things, and that things are manageable and within your control.
  • Meaningfulness: a belief that things in life are interesting and a source of satisfaction, that things are really worthwhile and that there is good reason or purpose to care about what happens.

According to Antonovsky, the third element is the most important. If a person believes there is no reason to persist and survive and confront challenges, if they have no sense of meaning, then they will have no motivation to comprehend and manage events. His essential argument is that “salutogenesis” depends on experiencing a strong “sense of coherence”. His research demonstrated that the sense of coherence predicts positive health outcomes.

Fields of Application

Health and Medicine

Antonovsky viewed his work as primarily addressed to the fields of health psychology, behavioural medicine, and the sociology of health. It has been adopted as a term to describe contemporary approaches to nursing, psychiatry, integrative medicine, and healthcare architecture. The salutogenic framework has also been adapted as a method for decision making on the fly; the method has been applied for emergency care and for healthcare architecture.

Workplace

The sense of coherence with its three components meaningfulness, manageability and understandability has also been applied to the workplace.

Meaningfulness is considered to be related to the feeling of participation and motivation and to a perceived meaning of the work. The meaningfulness component has also been linked with Job control and with task significance. Job control implies that employees have more authority to make decisions concerning their work and the working process. Task significance involves “the experience of congruence between personal values and work activities, which is accompanied by strong feelings of identification with the attitudes, values or goals of the working tasks and feelings of motivation and involvement”.

The manageability component is considered to be linked to job control as well as to access to resources. It has also been considered to be linked with social skills and trust. Social relations relate also to the meaningfulness component.

The comprehensibility component may be influenced by consistent feedback at work, for example concerning the performance appraisal.

Salutogenics perspectives are also considered in the design of offices.

Book: Resilience – How We Find New Strength at Times of Stress

Book Title:

Resilience – How We Find New Strength at Times of Stress.

Author(s): Fredric Flach (MD).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Hatherleigh Press.

Type(s): Paperback.

Synopsis:

Make stress your ally in the pursuit of happiness and personal fulfillment.

There’s no escaping stress. It appears on our doorstep uninvited in the shattering forms of death, divorce, or job loss. Stress even comes in the pleasant experiences of promotion, marriage, or a long-held wish fulfilled.

So why do some people come out of a crisis feeling better than ever, and others never seem to bounce back?

You will discover:

  • How to develop the 14 traits that will make you more resilient.
  • Why “falling apart” is often the smartest step to take on the road to resilience.
  • When the five-step plan for creative problem solving can help.
  • What essential steps you can take to strengthen your body’s resilience.
  • How to redefine your problem and restructure your pain to create a life you can handle, a life you can learn from and enjoy!

Drawing on more than thirty years of case studies from his own psychiatric practice, Dr. Frederic Flach reveals the remarkable antidote to the destructive qualities of stress – physical, mental, and emotional resilience.

Book: Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook

Book Title:

Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook.

Author(s): Matthew McKay (PhD).

Year: 2019.

Edition: Seventh (7th).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook broke new ground when it was first published in 1980, detailing easy, step-by-step techniques for calming the body and mind in an increasingly overstimulated world. Now in its seventh edition, this fully revised and updated workbook-highly regarded by therapists and their clients-offers the latest stress reduction techniques to combat the effects of stress and integrate healthy relaxation habits into every aspect of daily life.

This new edition also includes powerful self-compassion practices, fully updated chapters on the most effective tools for coping with anxiety, fear, and panic-such as worry delay and diffusion, two techniques grounded in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)-as well as a new section focused on body scan.

In the workbook, you will explore your own stress triggers and symptoms, and learn how to create a personal action plan for stress reduction. Each chapter features a different method for relaxation, explains why the method works, and provides on-the-spot exercises you can do when you feel stressed out. The result is a comprehensive yet accessible workbook that will help you to curb stress and cultivate a more peaceful life.

What is Adjustment Disorder?

Introduction

Adjustment disorder (AjD) is a maladaptive response to a psychosocial stressor that occurs when an individual has significant difficulty adjusting to or coping with a stressful psychosocial event. The maladaptive response usually involves otherwise normal emotional and behavioural reactions that manifest more intensely than usual (taking into account contextual and cultural factors), causing marked distress, preoccupation with the stressor and its consequences, and functional impairment.

Diagnosis of AjD is quite common; there is an estimated incidence of 5-21% among psychiatric consultation services for adults. Adult women are diagnosed twice as often as are adult men. Among children and adolescents, girls and boys are equally likely to receive this diagnosis. AjD was introduced into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. Prior to that, it was called “transient situational disturbance.”

Signs and Symptoms

Some emotional signs of AjD are:

  • Sadness;
  • Hopelessness;
  • Lack of enjoyment;
  • Crying spells;
  • Nervousness;
  • Anxiety;
  • Desperation;
  • Feeling overwhelmed and thoughts of suicide; and
  • Performing poorly in school/work etc.

Common characteristics of AjD include:

  • Mild depressive symptoms;
  • Anxiety symptoms; and
  • Traumatic stress symptoms, or
  • A combination of the three.

According to the DSM-5, there are six types of AjD, which are characterised by the following predominant symptoms: depressed mood, anxiety, mixed depression and anxiety, disturbance of conduct, mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct, and unspecified. However, the criteria for these symptoms are not specified in greater detail. AjD may be acute or chronic, depending on whether it lasts more or less than six months. According to the DSM-5, if the AjD lasts less than six months, then it may be considered acute. If it lasts more than six months, it may be considered chronic. Moreover, the symptoms cannot last longer than six months after the stressor(s), or its consequences, have terminated. However, the stress-related disturbance does not only exist as an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental disorder.

Unlike major depression, the disorder is caused by an outside stressor and generally resolves once the individual is able to adapt to the situation. The condition is different from anxiety disorder, which lacks the presence of a stressor, or post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder, which usually are associated with a more intense stressor.

Suicidal behaviour is prominent among people with AjD of all ages, and up to one-fifth of adolescent suicide victims may have an adjustment disorder. Bronish and Hecht (1989) found that 70% of a series of patients with AjD attempted suicide immediately before their index admission and they remitted faster than a comparison group with major depression. Asnis et al. (1993) found that AjD patients report persistent ideation or suicide attempts less frequently than those diagnosed with major depression. According to a study on 82 AjD patients at a clinic, Bolu et al. (2012) found that 22 (26.8%) of these patients were admitted due to suicide attempt, consistent with previous findings. In addition, it was found that 15 of these 22 patients chose suicide methods that involved high chances of being saved. Pelkonen et al. (2005) states statistically that the stressors are of one-half related to parental issues and one-third in peer issues.

One hypothesis about AjD is that it may represent a sub-threshold clinical syndrome.

Risk Factors

Those exposed to repeated trauma are at greater risk, even if that trauma is in the distant past. Age can be a factor due to young children having fewer coping resources; children are also less likely to assess the consequences of a potential stressor.

A stressor is generally an event of a serious, unusual nature that an individual or group of individuals experience. The stressors that cause adjustment disorders may be grossly traumatic or relatively minor, like loss of a girlfriend/boyfriend, a poor report card, or moving to a new neighbourhood. It is thought that the more chronic or recurrent the stressor, the more likely it is to produce a disorder. The objective nature of the stressor is of secondary importance. Stressors’ most crucial link to their pathogenic potential is their perception by the patient as stressful. The presence of a causal stressor is essential before a diagnosis of adjustment disorder can be made.

There are certain stressors that are more common in different age groups:

  • Adulthood:
    • Marital conflict.
    • Financial conflict.
    • Health issues with oneself, partner or dependent children.
    • Personal tragedy such as death or personal loss.
    • Loss of job or unstable employment conditions e.g. corporate takeover or redundancy.
  • Adolescence and childhood:
    • Family conflict or parental separation.
    • School problems or changing schools.
    • Sexuality issues.
    • Death, illness or trauma in the family.

In a study conducted from 1990 to 1994 on 89 psychiatric outpatient adolescents, 25% had attempted suicide in which 37.5% had misused alcohol, 87.5% displayed aggressive behaviour, 12.5% had learning difficulties, and 87.5% had anxiety symptoms.

Diagnosis

DSM-5 Classification

The basis of the diagnosis is the presence of a precipitating stressor and a clinical evaluation of the possibility of symptom resolution on removal of the stressor due to the limitations in the criteria for diagnosing AjD. In addition, the diagnosis of AjD is less clear when patients are exposed to stressors long-term, because this type of exposure is associated with AjD and major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Some signs and criteria used to establish a diagnosis are important. First, the symptoms must clearly follow a stressor. The symptoms should be more severe than would be expected. There should not appear to be other underlying disorders. The symptoms that are present are not part of a normal grieving for the death of family member or other loved one.

Adjustment disorders have the ability to be self-limiting. Within five years of when they are originally diagnosed, approximately 20-50% of the sufferers go on to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders that are more serious.

ICD-11 Classification

International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), assigns codes to classify diseases, symptoms, complaints, social behaviours, injuries, and such medical-related findings.

ICD-11 classifies Adjustment disorder (6B43) under “Disorders specifically associated with stress”.

Treatment

There has been little systematic research regarding the best way to manage individuals with an adjustment disorder. Because natural recovery is the norm, it has been argued that there is no need to intervene unless levels of risk or distress are high. However, for some individuals treatment may be beneficial. AjD sufferers with depressive or anxiety symptoms may benefit from treatments usually used for depressive or anxiety disorders. One study found that AjD sufferers received similar interventions to those with other psychiatric diagnoses, including psychological therapy and medication.

In addition to professional help, parents and caregivers can help their children with their difficulty adjusting by:

  • Offering encouragement to talk about their emotions;
  • Offering support and understanding;
  • Reassuring the child that their reactions are normal;
  • Involving the child’s teachers to check on their progress in school;
  • Letting the child make simple decisions at home, such as what to eat for dinner or what show to watch on TV; and/or
  • Having the child engage in a hobby or activity they enjoy.

Criticism

Like many of the items in the DSM, adjustment disorder receives criticism from a minority of the professional community as well as those in semi-related professions outside the health-care field. First, there has been criticism of its classification. It has been criticised for its lack of specificity of symptoms, behavioural parameters, and close links with environmental factors. Relatively little research has been done on this condition.

An editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry described adjustment disorder as being so “vague and all-encompassing… as to be useless,” but it has been retained in the DSM-5 because of the belief that it serves a useful clinical purpose for clinicians seeking a temporary, mild, non-stigmatising label, particularly for patients who need a diagnosis for insurance coverage of therapy.

In the US military there has been concern about its diagnosis in active duty military personnel.

References

Asnis, G.M., Friedman, T.A., Sanderson, W.C., Kaplan, M.L., van Praag, H.M. & Harkavy-Friedman, J.M. (1993) Suicidal Behavior in Adult Psychiatric Outpatients, I: Description and Prevalence. American Journal of Psychiatry. 150(1), pp.108-112. doi:10.1176/ajp.150.1.108.

Bolu, A., Doruk, A., Ak, M., Özdemir, B. & Özgen, F. (2012) Suicidal Behavior in Adjustment Disorder Patients. Dusunen Adam. 25(1), pp.58-62.

Bronish, T. & Hecht, H. (1989) Validity of Adjustment Disorder, Comparison with Major Depression. Journal of Affective Disorders. 17, pp.229-236.

Pelkonen, M., Marttunen, M., Henriksson, M. & Lönnqvist, J. (2005) Suicidality in Adjustment Disorder: Clinical Characteristics of Adolescent Outpatients. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 14(3), pp.174-180. doi:10.1007/s00787-005-0457-8.

Book: Mindfulness Workbook for Stress Relief

Book Title:

Mindfulness Workbook for Stress Relief: Reduce Stress through Meditation, Non-Judgement, Mind-Body Awareness, and Self-Inquiry.

Author(s): April Snow (LMFT).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Rockridge Press.

Type(s): Kindle.

Synopsis:

Mindfulness is a powerful and proven method for reducing stress and its negative health effects. The Mindfulness Workbook for Stress Relief shows you how to relieve tension and find calm using soothing, restorative techniques like meditation, non-judgement, self-inquiry, and mind-body awareness.

Featuring helpful exercises and simple meditations, this hands-on stress management workbook delivers a wide variety of effective mindfulness tools that you can add to your self-care toolbox like breath awareness, body scans, mindful walking, and more.

The Mindfulness Workbook for Stress Relief includes:

  • Practical & actionable: This book has a beginner-friendly focus that covers a spectrum of everyday situations and science-based solutions.
  • Evidence-based approach: Explore engaging mindfulness-based exercises that are proven to help relieve stress, anxiety, chronic pain, and sleep issues.
  • Situational success: Learn how to address stress triggers in many areas of daily life like relationships, at work, and beyond.

Take a deep breath and begin your practice today with this evidence-based mindfulness workbook.

Aromatherapy & Mental Health

Research Paper Title

The effects of Lavender and Chamomile essential oil inhalation aromatherapy on depression, anxiety and stress in older community-dwelling people: A randomised controlled trial.

Background

Considering the prevalence of mental health problems in older adults, this study aims to investigate the effect of inhalation aromatherapy using lavender and chamomile essential oils on depression, anxiety, and stress of community-dwelling older people.

Methods

A three-armed, parallel, randomised, and controlled trial design was used in this study. 183 participants were enrolled and randomly assigned to three groups (n = 61): the lavender, chamomile, and control groups. The participants in the experimental groups inhaled three drops of 1.5% lavender and chamomile essential oils for 30 nights. The participants in the control group inhaled only distilled water in a similar fashion. Data were collected using the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress-Scale (DASS) at baseline, immediately after the intervention, and one month after the intervention. Chi-square, Fisher’s exact, one-way ANOVA, and repeated measures ANOVA were used for data analysis.

Results

Statistically significant improvement occurred in depression, anxiety, and stress levels immediately and one month after the intervention in lavender and chamomile groups compared to the control group (p < 0.01).

Conclusions

Inhalation aromatherapy with both lavender and chamomile essential oils helped decrease depression, anxiety, and stress levels in community-dwelling older adults.

Reference

Ebrahimi, H., Mardani, A., Basirinezhad, M.H., Hamidzadeh, A. & Eskandari, F. (2021) The effects of Lavender and Chamomile essential oil inhalation aromatherapy on depression, anxiety and stress in older community-dwelling people: A randomized controlled trial. Explore (New York, N.Y.). doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2020.12.012. Online ahead of print.

Deployment-Related Stress & Support Needs

Research Paper Title

“This is not your Life…and it becomes your Life”: A Qualitative Exploration of Deployment-related Stress and Support needs in National Guard and Reserve spouses who are Mothers of Young Children.

Background

The adverse effects of deployment-related stress (DRS) on military service members, spouses, and children are well documented.

Findings from a recent Consensus Report on Military Families by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (2019) underscore the priority of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the diversity of today’s military families and their needs and well-being.

While social support is generally regarded as helpful during times of stress, it has not been studied extensively in National Guard/Reserve spouses who are parents of young children.

Methods

This qualitative study of 30 women examines the unique ways in which DRS affects women who are National Guard/Reserve spouses and mothers of young children, as well as the processes through which they encountered support to manage these stressors.

Salient themes spanned experiences involving deployment cycle phases of separation and reintegration and included both anticipated and unanticipated changes in family-related division of labour, dynamics, and communication patterns.

These were complicated by geographic, social, and cultural isolation and misguided efforts to support spouses initiated by civilians.

Conclusions

Women managed these stressors primarily through seeking, acquiring, and repurposing existing sources of informal social support for themselves and formal supports for their children, with varying degrees of success.

Reference

Ross, A.M., DeVoe, E.R., Steketee, G., Spencer, R. & Richter, M. (2020) “This is not your Life…and it becomes your Life”: A Qualitative Exploration of Deployment-related Stress and Support needs in National Guard and Reserve spouses who are Mothers of Young Children. Family Process. doi: 10.1111/famp.12622. Online ahead of print.

Book: The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety

Book Title:

The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety: Using CBT to Manage Stress and Anxiety.

Author(s): James Cowart (PhD).

Year: 2017.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Crown House Publishing.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

In ‘The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety: Using CBT to Manage Stress and Anxiety’, James Cowart offers a concise collection of tried-and-tested strategies from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and makes them accessible to people who are learning to cope with their anxiety on a day-to-day basis. ‘The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety’ has been placed highly commended in the health and social care category in the 2018 British Medical Association Medical Book Awards.

Anxiety is a normal part of our human nature. For spurring you to make decisions or perform, it can actually be helpful. However, an unchecked pattern of intrusive negative thoughts can escalate the severity and persistence of the level of anxiety experienced over time. As this worsens, it is not uncommon to feel an increasing lack of control ultimately leading to a chain of self-defeating behaviors that may negatively affect all aspects of your daily life. Yet, while it is not possible to directly control our emotions (or what others think or do), it is possible to learn and apply coping skills that can help you face feared situations rather than escape or avoid them.

James Cowart s aim in ‘The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety’ is to share a toolbox of CBT techniques garnered over 40 years clinical practice that will enable you to manage your anxiety on a sustainable path toward taking back some of that control. These self-help strategies focus on developing key coping skills designed to reduce fear and anxiety, and are complemented by a user-friendly, step-by-step program of practical exercises that can be personalized to meet each individual s unique needs.

Informed by his extensive experience and therapeutic knowledge, and with real-life case studies to guide you along your own journey, James s easy-to-remember ABCS approach is as transformative as it is simple:

  • A is for accepting the thoughts and feelings you can and can not control.
  • B is for breathing slowly and naturally to relieve and relax muscle tension.
  • C is for countering any unrealistic or catastrophic thoughts with truth and logic.
  • S is for staying with it so you can face your fears and anxieties until they are reduced.

Each step is explored in detail in the first four chapters, and further discussion is also dedicated to using the ABCS with different types of anxiety (including social anxiety, specific phobias, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)) and coping with related depression, anger and impulsivity. Punctuated with research-informed insight and instruction throughout, The ABCS of Coping with Anxiety’ offers hope, relief and reassurance in helping you master your anxiety and work toward greater independence.

Suitable for those living with anxiety and for the health professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors working with them.