What is separation anxiety?
“Separation anxiety disorder is the most prevalent anxiety disorder in children under the age of 12,” according to Psychology Today. During any 12-month period in America, the frequency of separation anxiety disorder is about 4 percent among children, but lower for adolescents (about 1.6 percent) and even smaller among adults, between 0.9 to 1.9 percent among, per the DSM-5. It’s a condition that happens equally in men and women, but the symptoms can be treated.
WHAT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
If you’re a caregiver to a young child, you may be familiar with separation anxiety, which is something that happens naturally in infants and toddlers as they develop. Young children frequently experience a time of separation anxiety, but nearly all children grow out of separation anxiety around the age of two. At this age, a child may become overly needy around a parent.
Separation anxiety, which is intense, prolonged, or interferes with school or daily life and includes problems like panic attacks or other issues, is normally due to anxiety about parents or another close caregiver. Depending on the circumstances and severity, separation anxiety could be indicative of a more serious condition called separation anxiety disorder, which can begin as early as the preschool years.
Separation anxiety disorder is more frequent in children with these risk factors:
- A family history of depression or anxiety, especially in the case of blood relatives.
- Has a very timid or shy personality.
- A family or parent with low socioeconomic standing.
- The child has overprotective parents or adult caregivers.
- Lack of appropriate involvement in the child’s life.
- Separation anxiety may also develop if the child has issues interacting with other children.
- The child has moved to a new home in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
- Switching from one daycare center or school to another.
- Experiences the passing of a beloved family member.
SYMPTOMS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY
Separation anxiety most often occurs in small children. Here are symptoms to watch for:
- Extreme distress when removed from the home or parental figures.
- Fear about losing parental figures.
- Worry that a parent could be injured.
- Too much concern about facing an unforeseen bad event like getting sick or lost and becoming separated from a parent or caregiver.
- Acts “clingy” around a parent and doesn’t want to be left alone at home or anywhere else.
- Doesn’t want to sleep any place where the parent or caregiver isn’t nearby.
- The child may have bad dreams about being separated from the parent.
- May often complain of headaches, nausea, or other ailments when a parent has left or is going to leave.
Diagnosis requires these symptoms to be present for four weeks in a child or adolescent. Separation anxiety may also occur in adults; symptoms need to be present for six or more months for proper diagnosis.
Treatment often requires psychotherapy in children and adults but may also involve medication including ketamine in the case of adult patients.
SEPARATION ANXIETY: ADULT VERSUS CHILD
Separation anxiety symptoms that continue into late childhood may result in the child being diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. If the symptoms continue into adulthood, a doctor may offer the diagnosis of “adult separation anxiety disorder.” It’s important to remember that symptoms can be similar, with a child’s fears increasing due to being away from a parent or caregiver. These anxieties can result in the child being less willing to do things – go to daycare or a birthday party – without a parent at his or her side.
Anxiety separation in adults is slightly different and can have more severe consequences. For an adult, the angst revolves around being separated from a spouse or children. As a result, work or other adult responsibilities could be affected.
TREATMENT FOR SEPARATION ANXIETY
To minimize the symptoms of separation anxiety, a child must build an ample sense of security, trust in a parent’s return, and trust in adults besides their parents. It helps when a parent attends a medical exam or treatment with the child often and as needed. If a parent can’t be there, it’s a good idea to familiarize the child with the building or doctor’s office before an appointment.
For older kids and adults, successful treatments may include psychotherapy, adjustments to parenting techniques for nervous adults with children, and anti-anxiety or medications including ketamine depending on patient age.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, which could include therapy or medications like ketamine, people who suffer from it can lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you experience any of its symptoms or know of someone with them, contact us today to learn more about the innovative new forms of treatment that are available.