Separation Anxiety Disorder is a mental health condition in which the person experiences strong fear about separating from someone to whom they are attached, usually a parent or other caregiver. This fear of separation is accompanied by persistent worry that something will happen to either the caregiver or the individual with separation anxiety, resulting in separation from the caregiver. These worries commonly include the caregiver dying or becoming lost, ill or injured; or the anxious individual becoming lost, getting kidnapped, or having an accident.
Although Separation Anxiety Disorder can occur at any age, it is most typically diagnosed in children and adolescents. Importantly, the fear of separation must be developmentally inappropriate to qualify for Separation Anxiety Disorder. For example, while it may be appropriate and even expected for a toddler to be fearful if a parent were to leave on business for a week, the same would not be appropriate for a 16-year old.
Children and adolescents with Separation Anxiety Disorder may attempt to quell their anxiety by always making sure they know the whereabouts of their caregiver, such as by following the caregiver around, calling out in anticipation of a response, or texting the caregiver to confirm their location. In the short term, these actions may serve to decrease the child’s anxiety. In the long term, anxiety and fear of separation increase.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder vary across individuals, but may include one or more of the following:
- Unwillingness to let family members out of sight
- Becoming irritable or anxious when separation is imminent
- Difficult, drawn-out goodbyes when going to school, to bed, etc.
- Crying, pleading and protesting during separation
- Tantrums or aggression during separation
- Fear of being alone
- Reluctance or refusal to go out, to school, or to work due to the fear of separation
- Refusal to sleep alone
- Reluctance or refusal to sleep away from home
- Nightmares about separation or loneliness
At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders including Separation Anxiety Disorder, and have the necessary training and resources to deliver evidence-based treatment to Separation Anxiety Disorder sufferers of all ages. We use Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) in the treatment of Separation Anxiety Disorder, as this is the therapy treatment which has proven most effective for a variety of anxiety disorders.
Through ERP, individuals with separation anxiety learn to face their fears about separation while increasing their ability to tolerate uncertainty about their caregiver’s location. This helps them gradually gain their lives back from Separation Anxiety Disorder and become confident, self-assured individuals. If you or someone you know would benefit from our specialized Separation Anxiety Disorder treatment services, please reach out to us at (630) 522-3124 today!