Almost all the children are afraid of unfamiliar places or people. It is normal for infants to feel clingy and fearful when separated from parents or caregivers, but when this fear lasts for a prolonged period, especially in children over six years of age, it could be a sign of separation anxiety disorder (SAD).
It is common for such children to experience feelings of homesickness and extreme misery when not in proximate to their loved ones. Just as adults, even children worry about bad things happening to them and their family members and then, live with the vague thought that something disastrous is going to happen.
It is believed that children who are diagnosed with the condition may continue to live with this disorder even as adults. Adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) is quite similar to the childhood disorder; however, the attachment figures in case of adults could have spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings or friends.
As per the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA's) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published in 1994, ASAD can not be treated as a separate diagnosis. Sadly, respectively ASAD being a highly debilitating condition, it has largely remained under-recognized and under-diagnosed.
Symptoms of SAD in children and adults
While SAD can affect both children and adults, the factors leading to the development of this disorder may be different for both the age groups. Here are some common symptoms of SAD in children:
- Extreme pain and distress when separated from their primary caregiver.
- Unwillingness to do anything that takes them away from their parents or caregivers.
- Nightmares about being separated from the parents.
- Inability to go to sleep without the figure of attachment close by.
- Using physical complaints as a trick of not having to separate from their parents.
To diagnose if an adult is affected by ASAD, one should look for the following symptoms:
- Constant worried that a loved one may die or get seriously ill.
- Concern about the safety of a loved one.
- Excessive fear or anxiety when asked to do things separately from their attachment figure.
- Avoiding any situation that makes them stay away from their loved one.
- Fear that the attachment figure will leave them.
An individual diagnosed with SAD may face social isolation, lack of ability to perform well at the workplace or in school, increased conflict in interpersonal relationships, and even a higher risk for developing another mental health condition. However, there are a number of effective treatment options for SAD, with a major of them emphasizing on the use of psychotherapy. When it comes to children with SAD, involvement of parents can help children to effectively deal with their anxiety symptoms, as well as improve the effectiveness of the treatment.
Managing SAD is not difficult
Anxiety, when experienced on a regular basis, can make it difficult for a person to stay motivated, focused and optimistic. The earlier treatment is begun, the better the output can be. Procrastinating may worsen the condition. Psychotherapy is the most common treatment method used to address the emotional symptoms of mental illness. It is used to make the patients aware of the common symptoms and results of specific mental illnesses.