How to Understand Separation Anxiety Disorder?


How to Understand Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Pop culture frequently portrays separation anxiety as a part of growing pains, with babies sobbing when taken from their mothers' arms or mothers themselves becoming "hysterical" when they are separated from their children for any reason. However, separation anxiety disorder is recognised as one of a range of anxiety disorders that can significantly impact someone's life. It goes beyond a parent-child relationship.

In other words, separation anxiety is a normal and necessary component of personal development. When it manifests pathologically and negatively affects people's life even as adults, it is considered a disorder.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety?

The diagnostic criteria for separation anxiety disorder in children include a child's fear of being or sleeping away from a caregiver and their extreme distress when separated.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) states that separation anxiety disorder affects adults and is characterised by excessive worry before or during any type of separation, fearing fictitious scenarios involving losing a loved one, worrying about actual life events that could harm a loved one, not wanting to be away from someone, having nightmares about losing someone, and other similar feelings that can affect a person's day-to-day life. In particular, fear is linked to being separated from a person who is thought to be a source of security and comfort.

The worry may not necessarily be about a specific individual but rather any type of connection figure. Separation anxiety can also be caused by a house, a pet, or any other important object. If it persists for longer than six months in adults, it qualifies as a diagnosable condition under the DSM-5 if it is abnormal for the person's age and stage of development and becomes a disorder if it is.

Who is Susceptible to Separation Anxiety Disorder?

According to certain research, women are more likely than men to struggle with separation anxiety, both as toddlers and adults. Additionally, it was discovered that those who experienced non-normative sexuality and gender as children did so more intensely than heterosexual guys. In addition, it has been discovered that women with early separation anxiety are more likely to develop eating disorders and uneasy attachment patterns as they age.

As a result of the realisation that separation anxiety can occur at any age and at any time and is frequently a lifelong illness, the DSM no longer has an age restriction of 18 years at the time of onset for diagnosis. Separation anxiety affects adults less frequently than it does children, but it also takes them longer to recover from it than other anxiety disorders, according to a global study.

According to additional studies, separation anxiety disorder is strongly influenced by cultural factors in both its detection and manifestation.

Why do some people develop separation anxiety?

Other neurodivergent or neurodevelopmental characteristics, such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and even social phobias like agoraphobia, can be linked to separation anxiety. Traumatic experiences in early life, such as the loss of a loved one, abuse, or moving away from social support, can also be underlying causes of the illness in adults. Children who have the disease may also have a family history of mental illness.

However, it need not necessarily be traumatic. According to counsellor Allison Forti, "important life transitions like moving away for college or having a kid can cause adult separation anxiety, particularly for those who have an underlying anxiety illness."

Many people who suffer from severe separation anxiety in their relationships were neglected or suffered catastrophic losses as children. As a result, they may end up becoming either overprotective parents or overbearing spouses, neither of which is good for the well-being of the respective relationships. In addition, a lot of adults with separation anxiety will also have additional personality problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental illnesses on their medical records.

How Is the Disorder of Separation Anxiety Treated?

Treatment options include medication, dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), exposure therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is the most popular. Couples or family therapy to help the person interact with the people they are having a hard time separating from more effectively, as well as anxiety-reducers like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, can also be helpful, according to Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic psychologist, in an article for Health.

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