Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders - A Brief Survey of Abnormal Psychology - Definitions

Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World - Andrea Bonior 2016

Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders
A Brief Survey of Abnormal Psychology


US prevalence 3.5 percent among adults


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves not just the experience of a trauma but also serious challenges and disruptions to daily life in the trauma’s aftermath. A trauma is defined as an experience of great helplessness and horror, often accompanied by feeling one’s life is in danger, or as the direct witnessing of such an experience suffered by another. Although a trauma— experiencing sexual assault, a car accident, or military combat—is the first component of PTSD, not everyone who suffers a trauma will develop the disorder. But those who do will start to see significant impairment in daily life, sometimes months or even years after the trauma. Their symptoms include chronic flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma, emotional numbness, and hypervigilance (for example, startling very easily). A person’s life becomes defined by the trauma, with the whole personality likely undergoing changes, and behavior—even if in the form of denial or avoidance of talking about the trauma—is drastically altered compared to what it was before the traumatic experience.


US prevalence 5 to 20 percent among adults in outpatient mental health treatment


Adjustment disorders belong to the category of disorders that encompasses reactions to clear-cut stressors. These disorders are very common among people who seek mental health treatment, especially when people have trouble coping with an actual life disturbance, as opposed to exhibiting symptoms that are aligned with specific psychological disorders. Such disturbances include relationship breakups, being fired from a job, and many other stressors. For adjustment disorder diagnosis, the stressor must have occurred within the past three months, and the distress (which can vary in presentation) must hinder day-to-day functioning or be out of proportion to the actual stressor. Naturally, adjustment disorder would not be diagnosed when another psychological disorder (such as a major depressive episode) is a better fit for the circumstances, nor during a typical grieving process. The diagnosis of adjustment disorder can be specified as including a depressed mood, anxiety, or both, in addition to behavioral problems and physical difficulties like insomnia and indigestion.