Many infants become anxious when they are separated from their primary caregivers ( parents). As they develop they learn to understand that the parent will return and they learn to comfort themselves while their parents are away.¹
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD), is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (e.g., a parent, caregiver, significant other or siblings).
The anxiety is beyond what would be expected for one’s developmental level. This can occur in children, adolescents, or adults, but is more commonly found in children and can induce long-lasting, continuous anxiety for periods up to six weeks.
According to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema children with separation anxiety disorder tend to come from families with a history of depression and anxiety. Studies have shown the tendency to anxiety is heritable. She also states that parents of anxious children are more controlling and intrusive in their behaviour. They are more critical and negative in their communication with their children. ¹
- High levels of distress and anxiety when separated from home or the attachment figure
- Constant worry over losing the attachment figure or having harm done to it
- Persistent worry about experiencing an event that would cause separation from the attachment figure
- Difficulty or refusal to go out for fear of separation
- Fear of being alone or without attachment figure
- The reluctance of sleeping away from home or going to sleep without being near attachment figure
- Nightmares about separation
- Separation anxiety disorder can also manifest physical symptoms such as:
- Physical symptoms are more often seen in teens and adults.
These symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic, occupational, or other important areas of functioning to meet the diagnosis. The symptoms cannot be better accounted for by another mental disorder or be caused by substances, medications, or medical illness.
Duration: at least 4 weeks in children; 6 months or longer in adults
Separation anxiety disorder affects people of all ages but is most commonly seen in children and teens under 18. A common sign to look for in children is a strong reluctance to go to school. Children who refuse to go to school may not want to go because they do not want to be separated from their attachment figure.
Feeling a bit of anxiety when separated from security objects and comfort zones is natural. It is around ages three to four when social anxiety can become a bigger problem. When separation anxiety becomes overwhelming and begins to interfere with daily activities, such as going to school or work, it could be possible that these natural worries have evolved into a clinical case of separation anxiety disorder. Image: Photo by Kat J on Unsplash
References & Resources
¹ Abnormal psychology. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. Sixth Edition. McGrawhill Education. 2014.
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