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Separation Anxiety Disorder

TRUHAP

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Separation anxiety, you know the moment you realize that your phone is missing, you begin to panic and then you start having thoughts: "Is it stolen?", "I have lost it forever". This is something trivial as compared to how a person feels when suffering from separation anxiety disorder (SAD), where an individual feels severe anxiety when separated from an attachment figure - usually the primary caregiver.

SAD does not have an age. It can occur in any individual but is most commonly seen in children. The child may exhibit behaviors like excessive and severe crying, clinginess, getting sick physically, violent tantrums, etc.

Separation anxiety is a survival technique present in a child from 6 months to 3 years of age. It's a natural emotional developmental process. It begins when an infant realizes that things and people continue to exist even when they are not visible – this is called Object Permanence. 

The pathological manifestation of this is when the child reaches 3 years and still continues to display separation anxiety. The child displays excessive fear and distress even at the idea of separation from their home or specific attachment figure. As for teenagers and adults, the separation anxiety is present alongside other anxiety-related conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder (persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things.), panic disorder (recurrent panic attacks) and agoraphobia (in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed).

SAD might also be present in regards to being in a relationship.

The causes for this disorder are unknown but some risk factors that have been identified are as follows:

  • Having parents or family with pathological disorders.
  • Losing a loved one (It could even be a pet).
  • Some children may be more vulnerable due to their temperament, for example, their level of anxiety when placed in new situations.
  • Parental divorce.
  • Changing school or even homes.
  • Having overprotective and intrusive parents.

For an individual to be diagnosed with SAD, the symptom's need to be present for at least four weeks in children and adolescents and six months or more in adults. Also, these symptoms must cause impairment in academic, social, personal and work life.

The treatments consist of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, family therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to many more. 

There are many techniques in behavioral therapies such as: systematic desensitization (the person is engaged in some type of relaxation exercise and gradually exposed to an anxiety-producing stimulus, like an object or place), emotive imagery, participant modelling and contingency management (involves reward based system where the parent and child write a contract which entails specific goals that the child will try to achieve and the specific reward the parent will provide if the task is accomplished.)

Medication can be used as a last resort for severe separation anxiety disorder that failed to get treated by non-medicinal methods. The medicines used are usually anti-depressants along with sedatives.

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