Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a distress experienced when one is away from loved ones or home. It can also be an excessive worry about losing a loved one or anticipate something bad will happen to the loved ones. In infants and toddlers, it is usually seen as a normal part of development, especially when the parents stay away from the children for work or when the toddler has started going to daycare or school. This is largely due to the comfort zone that the baby has got used to, with the constant availability of the parents, usually a mother. It’s while moving out of that zone that the distress is expressed or seen as separation anxiety (SA). Sometimes it is also seen in adults.
In an exclusive interaction with OnlyMyHealth, Dr Dipti Reddy Nallu, Psychiatry, Citizens Specialty Hospital, Hyderabad, elucidates why separation anxiety is the most common in children and how to cope with it. Here is what she shared with us.
Risk Factors and Common Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety
Some of the possible causes and risk factors associated with SAD may include a significant stressful or traumatic event in the child's life, having a family history or overprotective parents, stress, insecurity, etc. Whereas in adults, SAD can stem from life events such as the loss of a family member or a loved one, underlying mental health conditions, etc.
The common symptoms associated with separation anxiety in children includes incessant crying, unable to distract from the worry of not being able to see the loved one, repeated nightmares, being extremely clingy to the parents when they are present, not eating well, interfering with school activities, refusing to be away from home because of fear of separation, etc.
Treatment Of Separation Anxiety
If you notice that your child is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, seek medical help before the anxiety starts affecting your child's daily living and health.
Most mild cases of separation anxiety disorder don’t need medical treatment. However, in more severe cases, or when the child refuses to go to school, treatment may be needed. The goal of the treatment is to reduce anxiety in the child, develop a sense of security and educate the child and family/caregivers about the need for natural separations.
The preferred choice of treatment is psychotherapy, which will involve the child and the primary caretakers or parents. This therapy intends to reshape the child's thinking, such that their behaviour becomes more appropriate. Also, parents are guided on how to handle their child’s anxiousness on a daily basis. Besides, the doctor can also help in identifying the triggers. If the anxiety attacks are intense, then medicines are added to help with the negative emotions especially for adult patients.
Other than that, in case of children, parents should start with short separations from their child, tell them when they will be leaving and coming back as this will help them cope. Gradually, you can increase the time apart as your child becomes comfortable with separation.
Most children with separation anxiety disorder get better, although their symptoms may come back during stressful times.
In case of adults too, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the first line of treatment as the therapy aims to help people identify their thoughts as well as behaviours that make their separation anxiety worse. Anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed temporarily.
That being said, separation anxiety is more commonly seen in children than in adults and as with most of the conditions, the therapy or treatment that starts early is most likely to be successful.