All of us have experienced some level of anxiety when separated from our near and dear ones. Separation anxiety disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by excessive anxiety when separated from people with whom the sufferer has strong emotional attachment. It is prevalent in both adults and children and is common in families with a history of anxiety. Among adults, more women than men suffer from this disorder. It is quite interesting to note that separation anxiety disorder in adults was recognized only about 20 years back by psychiatrists. The top five symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are:
- Persistent worry about primary caregiver. The worrying could be about losing them or about them being harmed. The person keeps constantly worrying that some unexpected event will cause separation from the attachment figure. This worry significantly affects their social and occupational performance in life.
- Excessive fear of being alone. Children with this disorder refuse to go to school, or even to play alone, as it involves being away from their primary caregiver.
- Persistent refusal to go to sleep without the presence of loved ones. Children can exhibit temper tantrums — whining, crying, throwing objects, and screaming. This usually occurs because they feel excessive and disabling distress when separated.
- Recurrent nightmares about being separated from loved ones. Waking up from nightmares decreases their daytime performance.
- Recurrent physical symptoms include headaches, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite when separated. Bed-wetting, in the case of children, could also be another symptom.
Some amount of separation anxiety is normal in children. It becomes a disorder when it becomes excessive. Separation anxiety disorder symptoms may begin at any age. Research shows hormonal influences during pregnancy may influence the chance of a child developing this disorder. Trauma or stress in childhood could also be a possible cause of separation anxiety disorder. Trauma could be caused by a prolonged stay in a hospital, or in an adult’s case, death of a loved one. Another causative factor could be parents who are overprotective and overanxious about their child’s safety. Side effects of some medications may also produce symptoms.
Diagnosis for separation anxiety disorder is based on detailed history, signs, and symptoms. Symptoms have to be persistent over a long period for evaluation to be carried out. Most symptoms improve with psychotherapy and medicines. Mild separation anxiety disorder symptoms do not need any treatment.
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