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What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

For children under the age of 12, Separation Anxiety Disorder is the most prevalent anxiety disorder while in a 12-month period in the United States, it is estimated that it exists among 0.9 to 1.9 percent in adults, 1.6 percent among teenagers, and 4 percent among children.

Separation Anxiety Disorder is a condition in which an individual, often a child, becomes anxious and fearful when they are away from home or when they are separated from a loved one, often their caregiver. However, it is important to note that such condition may be present at all stages of life, not just children. For a child who is two years or younger, it may be normal for them to express such anxiety or fear when their parent is out of sight because they are not yet able to fully understand that their parent could be out of sight. Such separation becomes a problem when it’s excessive given the individuals developmental level and when it begins to disrupt the person’s daily life. For example, the individual cannot go to work or school because they do not want to be on their own but rather feel the need to be with their loved one.

What causes Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Although there is not a known cause, there are risks factors that are believed to influence such disorder. For example, a major stressor in someone’s life or the loss of a loved one (including a pet) may influence the development of such disorder. Also, a divorce of the parents, changes of school, or even having overprotective parents may play a role. Being separated from your loved one because of a disaster of some sort, for example, has also shown to influence the disorder.

Furthermore, although it has not been scientifically proven, research has shown that Separation Anxiety Disorder may be genetic.

What are the symptoms?

  • Constant physical complaints such as headaches, nausea or stomachaches
  • The individual becomes distressed when separated from home or their loved one
  • Constant worry about losing a loved one
  • Excessive worry about an unexpected negative event such as getting lost or becoming ill because that leads to separating from their loved one
  • Refusal to leaving school, work or home due to the fear of separation
  • Refusal of going to sleep without the presence of the loved one
  • Nightmare about being separated & bet wetting

How can it be treated?

In most cases, medical treatment is not necessary, but rather individuals undergo therapy to reduce the anxiety, develop a sense of security in both the loved ones and the individuals, and educating the individual and loved ones about the need of separation.

Some individuals undergo psychotherapy to help the individual tolerate separation while others may undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy to help reshape the individuals thinking. Another option may be behavioral modification therapy where an individual is not punished for their symptoms, but rather rewarded for small victories over symptoms.

What can I do for myself or for someone I know?

  • Make yourself positive notes
  • Avoid overshceduling
  • Reinforce bravery. When the individual shows fear, ignore it, but when they show bravery, give the individual encouragement
  • Give yourself the time to be on your own & love yourself first