As we have worked our way through the nine symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) on the DSM IV and the personality traits of the DSM 5, we have encountered a major section, and perhaps the core issue, on symptom six, anxiety. Deeper investigation into the relationship between anxiety disorders and BPD, led us to the discovery that 90% of people with BPD suffer from one or more anxiety disorders. In past blogs, we have looked at the impact of Generalized Anxiety and Anxiety Attacks. Today we want to take a look at Social Adjustment Disorder (SAD).
A study by Kelly et al led to a startling conclusion. Patients diagnosed with BPD who scored low on overall social adjustment were over 16 times more likely to have attempted suicide than patients diagnosed with major depression. They concluded: “Recent life events may elevate suicide risk in groups already at high risk for suicide completion, whereas high levels of social adjustment may be protective against stress-related suicidal behavior.”
So what exactly is Social Adjustment Disorder? There are two factors involved in SAD – social adjustment abilities or disabilities, and adjusting to a major event. First let’s look at social adjustment. Social adjustment by definition is: “an attempt made by an individual to address the standards, values and desires of a society so as to be accepted.” People with SAD experience more stress than would normally be expected because of a history of difficulty adjusting to family and other social patterns. For example, risk may be increased by experiencing significant stress in childhood, by having a number of difficult life circumstances happening at the same time, or by experiencing a series of minor difficulties collectively over a prolonged period.
The second factor is the ability to adjust to specific life circumstances. Usually stressors are temporary and we learn to adjust over a three month period. However, people with SAD will experience ongoing difficulty lasting up to six to nine months or even longer if the cause is prolonged such a divorce or being fired and not being able to find a job in our area of expertise.
Most of the symptoms listed for SAD can be evidenced by any or all of the anxiety disorders; however here are some of the more unique ones:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling sad, hopeless or not enjoying things you used to enjoy
- Withdrawing from social supports
- Avoiding important things such as going to work or paying bills
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Most significantly, as noted by Kelly et al, we may be looking at the major cause of suicidal behavior, not only as related to anxiety, depression, and BPD, but perhaps the major cause overall.
The key then is to develop some strategies to get through those three to nine months. Developing healthy coping skills and learning to be resilient before hand may help during times of high stress.
Here are my five suggestions for bisexuals with Social Adjustment Disorder:
- We can call upon our higher self for guidance and strength. We remind our self that this distress is usually time-limited and that we can get through it. We recognize that even though these events are painful, they may also be a gateway for change, a time for awakening our higher powers, and a chance to seek a better life.
- We increase our health habits like diet and exercise thereby providing the oxygen and nutrients needed by a healthy brain.
- We rally our social supports. We develop a network of supportive people and groups to assist us in time of need. When we feel overwhelmed, we do not hesitate to use their services. There is a reason they made a commitment to help us. They love us.
- We check in with our doctor or mental health professional to review healthy ways to manage our stress and deal with the current problem.
- If we know that a stressful situation is coming up — such as a move or retirement — we prepare ourselves for it by making a plan for orderly transition. For example, if we have difficulty being alone during the Christmas season, we arrange to take part in some Christmas charities such as volunteering to work in the kitchen preparing meals on Christmas day – by the way, merry Christmas – thus taking our mind off our own problems and experiencing joy through someone else’s eyes.
 Thomas M. Kelly, PhD1; Paul H. Soloff, MD1; Kevin G. Lynch, PhD1; Gretchen L. Haas, PhD1; J. John Mann, MD2. Recent Life Events, Social Adjustment, and Suicide Attempts in Patients with Major Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder. Vol. 32, Iss. 6. Dec. 2000.