Hi Dr. Nick | Issue 03

Hi Dr. Nick | Issue 03

Coping with change

Hi everybody,

Last week we flirted with the idea of putting complex medical terms into simple concepts. This week we’re going to take our relationship with that idea to the next level; order it a bottle of the 24’s finest Pinot Gris, treat it to dinner in Dunedin’s most romantic restaurant (Le Tokyo Gardens), and then drunkenly nail it in the 10Bar toilets.

Now, I’m going to make the wild assumption that most of you are between 18 and 25 and go to the University of Otago. I’m also going to assume that ducks are smaller than leopards, and that apples grow on trees. If you are an oddly proportioned duck, bush-dwelling apple, non-studying Dunedinite or a mature student, then feel free to write to Critic and complain that I’m not catering to you. My flat doesn’t have a heat pump and I could use tinder for the fireplace.

As an 18 to 25 year old, you’ll likely be experiencing a lot of new things while you’re at Uni: living away from home, not having parents to look after you, being able to purchase alcohol, drunken anal sex with that guy from Fever, living with a hundred other freshers, moving into adulthood, managing your own finances, and getting a stat dose of Azithromycin after contracting rectal Chlamydia.

The combination of all these major new experiences (and dozens of smaller ones) means Uni is a pretty big deal. It’s after big life events like these that see something called “Adjustment Disorder.” And, like a guy with a fetish for needles, we finally come to the point. (Mature students, you can put down your “letter of complaint” quill, because Adjustment Disorder doesn’t just happen to young whippersnappers).

Adjustment Disorder is the inability to cope with a major stressor or life adjustment, with associated behavioural or emotional symptoms. It can cause changes in appetite, sleep disturbance, low mood, anxiety, and even suicide at its worst. Given these possible outcomes, you’d think it’d be pretty well understood; but like our memory of Jaegermeister-fuelled nights, Adjustment Disorder’s definition is fairly hazy. What’s the difference between being stressed by a change, struggling with a change, and being “unable to cope” with a change? What if you vary between all three? What if sometimes you struggle with the change and sometimes you love it?

Health Researchers hate the fact that there are no good answers to those questions. Realistically, however, a clear definition isn’t hugely important in the outside world. The diagnosis only exists to get people thinking about the importance of life events in our health and wellbeing. Strip away the words “Adjustment Disorder” and the concept becomes simple.

Everybody reading this will experience major changes in their life: some will seem awesome, some will seem awful, and some will seem like both. For many of you, your time at university will be the biggest change in your life, so it’s completely normal to have an emotional and behavioural reaction to it. It’s also completely normal for those emotions and behaviours to be different to what you expected.

There’s nothing wrong with being excited to be here one day, and then upset the next. There’s also nothing wrong with seeking help if you feel that things are starting to get on top of you. The reason we have the term “Adjustment Disorder” is because we know that life changes can have huge impacts on people’s health. You might be independent for the first time, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with things alone.
This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2014.
Posted 4:35pm Sunday 9th March 2014 by Dr. Nick.