Separation anxiety disorder is defined as a developmental abnormality that causes excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is emotionally attached. It is a condition that is more common in children, but can also be present in adults. Children who suffer from separation anxiety disorder, which manifests when the child is separated from the primary caregiver (parents being the most common example), are usually more likely to go through other psychological problems, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and other disorders, later in life.
Some of the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are recurring distress when separation to the object of attachment takes place; persistent and excessive worrying about the imminent loss of the subject of attachment; refusing to sleep or go to any place without the person attached to; and having nightmares about being separated from the subject of attachment.
As infants age, their learned idea of trust, safety, and comfort depend on familiarity and consistency. Children experience fear when they are suddenly taken away from familiar places and cannot recognize familiar faces. Not seeing their parents makes them feel threatened and unsafe. Separation anxiety is a normal development stage; when toddlers begin to understand that parents may be out of sight but will return eventually, their level of distress is alleviated.
In adults, on the other hand, separation anxiety is associated with personal impairment and social inadequacy. An example of identifiable syndrome is when an adult depend on his family members too much that he cannot function normally without them. When the problem is pathological, it often occurs with other psychiatric illnesses and other anxiety conditions and mood disorders. When the distress from being separated from a loved one, for any reason that may range from relocation, estrangement, or death, causes significant impairment in the social, physical, and psychological functioning of an individual, then help of a mental health professional may be warranted.
Some studies are concerned with finding the link between separation anxiety disorder in children and its subsequent onset in adulthood. Treatments for this disorder usually involve one or more types of psychotherapy. Such therapies are focused on teaching children to recognize thoughts that provoke the anxiety and ultimately developing a plan to help them cope with situations that may cause separation.
Making the experience an enjoyable one for children also helps: behavioral strategies such as role-playing, relaxation training, and giving them due praise and recognition when improvements are noticed are some of the exercises that can be employed. For younger children, incorporating the parents into the training may also be beneficial. Family therapy and intervention may also be appropriate to address issues that affect the family dynamics.
Treatment in adult may be a little more comprehensive. Adults that develop this disorder have difficulty in functioning in normal situations without the object of their dependency. Altering such lifelong behavior may require several visits to the psychotherapist to correct. That’s why as early as possible, the onset of separation anxiety disorder must be identified to enable proper and prompt solution to the problem.