Throughout our lives we have to face all kinds of events, situations or experiences that can leave a mark on our psychological health. In some people the impact of these vital moments is so strong that it can even trigger a psychological condition.

This type of condition is known as mixed adaptive disorder . The aim of this article is to analyse this type of disorder, its symptoms, causes and treatment; as well as to point out the main differences with other adaptive disorders.

What is mixed adaptive disorder?

Mixed adaptive disorder refers to a group of conditions that appear in reaction to a life-stressing factor. Specifically, the person experiences a series of difficulties when trying to cope with a stressful or emotionally charged life event , feeling marked by strong feelings of depression and anxiety.

These events or situations can include anything from the death of a loved one, to relationship problems, to a job layoff. Although any of these experiences can be distressing and stressful, some people have difficulty managing certain stressors, which often leads to the development of this type of psychological disorder.

In the case of mixed adaptive disorder, the person’s reaction is much more severe than usual and may end up causing a very significant deterioration of social, work and/or academic functioning . Furthermore, in order to be diagnosed as such, the symptoms must appear within three months after the appearance of the stressor and must not last more than six months after the stressor has disappeared.

This reaction can occur in response to a single event, such as a serious traffic accident or the death of a family member, or after a stressful period of time, such as serious marital or work problems.

Usually, mixed adaptive disorder has been associated with a high risk of suicide or suicidal behavior and with substance abuse. In addition, a mixed adaptive disorder that persists can develop into a much more serious mental disorder such as major depressive disorder.

What symptoms do you have?

Although symptoms may vary widely among people with mixed adaptive disorder, the clinical picture of this condition includes it:

  • Depressed mood .
  • Weeps.
  • Low self-esteem .
  • Retracted attitude.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Anxiety, worry, stress and tension.
  • Shaking .
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Social, occupational or school impairment.
  • Insomnia .
  • Continuous feeling of tiredness.
  • Tremors and/or spasms.
  • Palpitations .
  • Physical discomfort such as general pain, stomach pain or chest pain

How is it different from other adaptive disorders?

In addition to mixed adaptive disorder, there are six other types of adaptive disorders that arise in response to a stressful experience. As mentioned earlier, mixed adaptive disorder is characterized by feelings of both depression and anxiety. However, all other disorders have other specific qualities:

1. Adaptive disorder with depressive mood

In this case the patient tends to experience only feelings of sadness and hopelessness, as well as constant crying and anhedonia.

2. Adaptive disorder with anxious mood

The person feels pathologically overwhelmed, anxious, and overly concerned; it can get to the point of concentration problems and memory lapses.

3. Adaptive behavior disorder

The symptomatology of this subtype is associated with an altered pattern of behavior, which often involves problematic, risky, and reckless behavior.

4. With mixed alteration of emotions and behavior

Collect all the types named above. Feelings of depression, anxiety and behavioral problems.

5. Unspecified adaptive disorder

People with this diagnosis have symptoms not associated with the above disorders. They usually include physical symptoms and/or problems with friends, family, work and/or school.

What could be the causes?

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, the cause or trigger of a mixed adaptive disorder is found in the appearance or experience of a highly stressful factor.

In adults, this factor is usually related to financial, work or relationship problems, while in children and adolescents these experiences include school problems, family problems or separations. On the other hand, there are other experiences that may affect people of any age such as the death of a loved one, life changes, accidents, catastrophes or medical conditions such as cancer.

However, these experiences are characterized by the fact that they can negatively affect anyone. Therefore, there are a series of conditions that modify the way a person faces a stress situation and that favour the appearance of mixed adaptive disorder. These factors include

  • Existing coping strategies.
  • Economic conditions.
  • Availability of social support .
  • Occupational and recreational opportunities.

What is the treatment based on?

Depending on the condition of the person diagnosed with mixed adaptive disorder, he or she may need short-term treatment or treatment for a somewhat longer period of time. Similarly, depending on the severity of the disorder, the intervention protocol for this diagnosis may include psychological therapy, medication, or both.

1. Psychological therapy

Psychological therapy is often the treatment of choice in a mixed adaptive disorder , as it allows the patient to regain normal levels of functioning. The main goal of any type of psychological therapy is to help the person understand their situation and develop coping skills.

The main types of therapy used in this disorder include

  • Family and group therapies.
  • Specific support groups .
  • .

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  • Brief strategic therapy.

2. Drug therapy

The mission of drug therapy is to decrease some of the symptoms of this disorder such as insomnia and the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety . Commonly used medications include

  • Benzodiazepines such as lorazepam and alprazolam
  • Non-benzodiazepine anxiolytics such as gabapentin
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as sertraline or venlafaxine.