What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by an intense or prolonged fear of being away from someone. While the condition is often associated with children, it can occur in people of all ages.
Children with separation anxiety disorder typically fear being away from their parents or primary caregivers. While some resistance to separation is normal at a young age, intense anxiety that is outside the norm for the child’s developmental age may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder.
When adults live with separation anxiety disorder, they may fear being away from their spouses, children, or other loved ones. Such adults may have separation anxiety in regard to some family members, but not others.
By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for separation anxiety, you take the first step toward a more peaceful future.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
The fear of being separated from a loved one can show up in many different ways. For both children and adults, symptoms can include:
- Excessive emotional stress when away from home or a loved one
- Intense anxiety at the thought of being separated from a loved one
- Excessive or constant worry about losing a loved one due to an accident or sudden illness
- Excessive or constant worry about separation due do a disaster, kidnapping, or other extreme cause of separation
- Refusing to leave home due to fear of separation
- Reluctance or refusal to sleep anywhere other than at home
- Recurrent nightmares about separation
- Physical symptoms of stress when away from a loved one or anticipating separation
In young children, separation anxiety may also appear as extreme tantrums when facing separation.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety disorder may be caused by traumatic events, genetics, or other unforeseen causes. While anyone can develop separation anxiety disorder, people with these risk factors are more likely to develop the condition:
- Stressors involving separation from a loved one, such as a recent death in the family, divorce, or move
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Experience with a natural disaster that caused loss or separation
- Certain personalities and temperaments
Often times, people with separation anxiety disorder also live with another mental health condition, which clinicians call “comorbid disorders.” Most commonly, people with separation anxiety disorder live with other anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression.
Treatment Options for Separation Anxiety
If someone is diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, several treatment options become available. Therapy is typically the first-line treatment for people with separation anxiety disorder. Depending on the patient’s needs and provider’s expertise, types of therapy may include play therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or others.
Some cases of separation anxiety disorder may be so severe that the patient needs anti-anxiety medication. Typically, medication is used alongside therapy, not as a replacement. Patients may take the medication just for a short while or more long-term.
Telehealth for Separation Anxiety Treatment
Online therapy and telemedicine may be options for people with separation anxiety disorder. These safe, effective treatment options allow patients to attend appointments through secure, online video chats.
Separation Anxiety FAQ
Separation anxiety is a disorder characterized by an intense or prolonged fear of being away from someone. While the condition is often associated with children, it can occur in people of all ages.
Separation anxiety usually starts at around 6 to 7 months, and is a common part of a child’s development. Behaviors include crying when you leave the room, clinging, and refusing to go to sleep without having you nearby.
Separation anxiety is usually at its peak between 10 and 18 months, and typically ends by the time a child is 3 years old. If your child continues to show anxiety it is a good idea to consult with a mental health professional.
The three stages of separation anxiety are protest, despair, and detachment. Although this is an old theory, it does provide a model that helps parents understand what their child is experiencing.
Yes. Adults with separation anxiety have extreme fears that bad things will happen to important people in their lives such as family members, when left alone. This fear is often part of other anxiety-related conditions.
Talk to someone who can help. LifeStance is your online resource for finding the right mental health professionals to deal with separation anxiety, and other related mental health issues.