This blog post will take a look at separation anxiety disorder, what causes it, how it can be treated, and more. It’ll also address other anxiety disorders and mental health as a whole in the Buckeye State.
In the beginning, a parent/guardian and their child are inseparable. They share moments with each other that will last a lifetime.
More often than not, our caregivers were the ones holding our hand as we took our first steps, the first to see us cry, the first to take us to a park or out for ice cream, and the last to leave our side.
Those first moments separated from our caregivers were hard.
Do you remember the first time you were away from them for an extended period of time? Maybe it was at a sleepover, sleeping in your own bed, at camp, your first few days of school — wherever it was, it was scary.
Even for adults, those first moments away from their children are stressful.
However, there comes a point in time when a child’s fear of separation can become what’s known as a separation anxiety disorder. And most of the time, it doesn’t go away on its own.
Is your child terrified of leaving your side? Are they always following you around? When you step away for a moment, do they throw tantrums? All of these actions may sound normal for young children, but as kids grow older, these behaviors can have negative effects on their development.
Separation anxiety is common, especially for children.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), “Separation anxiety in children is a developmental stage in which the child is anxious when separated from the primary caregiver.” Typically, it’s an exaggerated reaction of fear and anxiety when separated.
Children become accustomed to routines. Mom, Dad, or the caregiver wakes them up in the morning, feeds them breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and tucks them in at night. A break in routine can cause anxiety.
The NLM also says, “It (separation anxiety) usually ends when the child is around 2 years old. At this age, toddlers begin to understand that parents may be out of sight now but will return later. It's also normal for them to test their independence.”
Separation anxiety may also come in the form of what’s known as a separation anxiety disorder. This disorder may cause worry and fear for children when separated from their parents or guardians. These worries include getting lost and permanently separated from their family, or believing something bad will happen to their caregivers when they are separated.
It’s important to remember separation anxiety disorder is different from separation anxiety. Similar to studies from the NLM, Stanford Children’s Health says, “Nearly all children between the ages of 18 months and three years old have separation anxiety and are clingy to some degree.” It becomes more of an issue when children grow past that age.
To get past those anxieties, it’s important for children to learn that their caregiver will return, and kids will have to learn to feel more comfortable in various environments.
Separation anxiety disorders can lead to problems with the development process by causing extreme worry and unneeded stress and preventing kids from experiencing important childhood activities. This disorder is difficult to grow out of, and treatment is usually needed.
Typically, there are no tests for child and adolescent separation anxiety disorder. If you believe your child may be experiencing separation anxiety or separation anxiety disorder, and they’re 3 or older, speak with a medical professional who will be able to provide a proper diagnosis.
Here in Ohio, child and adolescent separation anxiety disorder research has been done to learn more about the subject.
According to Ohio’s Pediatric Psychiatry Network (PPN), the estimated occurrence of child and adolescent separation anxiety disorder is 4-5%, which makes it one of the most common childhood psychiatric disorders. It can be diagnosed up to the age of 18.
Reportedly, there is a higher rate of the disorder in girls than boys, and it’s usually diagnosed before puberty. The average age of diagnosis is 7.5 years old, making it one of the earliest anxiety disorders to be diagnosed in children.
The PPN says, “Common precipitating factors include a move, change of school, loss of a loved one, illness in the family, or prolonged absence from school. Separation anxiety waxes and wanes, with exacerbations in times of stress. While some children recover fully after a single episode, others may experience a more protracted and chronic course.”
Children may also have trouble sleeping in their own beds, and feeling nervous around people like babysitters and daycare providers.
Around 60% of children with separation anxiety disorder have a related anxiety disorder, and 30% have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and other phobias. Studies show it’s also related to things like depression.
The exact causes of separation anxiety disorder can be difficult to solve. According to Stanford Children’s Health, experts even have trouble learning how to prevent it. If signs are noticed, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
If your child is diagnosed with the condition, take the time to educate yourself on the matter. The parent/guardian plays a huge role in successful treatment.
One type of treatment may be cognitive behavioral therapy. A therapist will address their negative thoughts and ways of thinking with the goal of helping them “unlearn” these thoughts. Ideally, the negative thoughts will be replaced with positive and realistic thoughts.
While it’s not always needed, another way to address the issue is through the use of medication. However, for children with severe cases of separation anxiety disorder, it may be necessary. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat the condition.
All in all, support is key. Changes aren’t made overnight, and it can be a process. Don’t lose hope. Separation anxiety disorders can be successfully treated.
We know how hard it can be to watch your child worry every time you leave the room. We can help.
First and foremost, the child needs support from their loved ones. Caregivers should also remain consistent with following recommendations given by medical professionals.
A child needs to visit a mental health professional to be properly diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. They will be evaluated, and a determination will be made. It’s also important to speak with their pediatrician.
Here at SUN Behavioral Columbus, we believe in empowering our patients to be the expert in their life. This includes being able to identify their own needs and learning how to overcome obstacles. To learn more about how we can help, call 614-706-2786.
Around 40 million Americans have a mental health disorder. Just near 37% receive treatment.
Mental health as a whole is starting to be taken more seriously. Just because it’s somewhat “invisible” as compared with, let’s say, a sprained wrist that may swell and present itself for the world to see doesn’t mean it’s not there. Separation anxiety is far from the only common anxiety disorder out there.
Generalized anxiety disorder is common. It involves excessive worry about everyday things. This may make it difficult to control worry, restlessness, irritability, stomachache, and headache.
Panic disorders, which can be extremely frightening, are recognized by panic attacks, feeling out of breath, heart palpitations, strong fears and anxieties, shaking, and feeling like you’re about to lose control or something terrible is going to happen.
Social anxiety disorder is also common in the United States. People with a social anxiety disorder may avoid public settings and social events. This disorder presents itself as fear of judgment and rejection. Another symptom is difficulty speaking with others.
There are also what’s known as co-occurring disorders, which include obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, night terrors, depression, insomnia, problems with appetite, and suicidal thoughts or actions.
People may also experience phobias. This involves the fear of people, things, places, or situations. This can affect a person’s daily life if they go out of their way to avoid the previously mentioned fears. Phobias can also cause panic. Some phobias include:
Adults aren't immune to mental health disorders, either. Mental health disorders know no boundaries. They can be found anywhere and affect anyone regardless of age.
Here in Columbus, Columbus Public Health reported in 2020, “The prevalence of mental illness in Ohio is consistent with the U.S., with 20% of adults (18+) experiencing any mental illness in the past year.” Essentially, 1 in 5 Ohio residents has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
Specifically in Franklin County, those numbers remain the same. About 1 in 5 Franklin County residents experienced a mental health disorder from 2019-2020. In February 2020, around 13% of Franklin County residents reported 15 or more days where they struggled with their mental health.
Compared with national numbers that show 1 in 5 adults have been diagnosed with depression, 1 in 4 Franklin County residents have.
Remember, if you need to address your mental health, help is out there.
Anxieties do not have to rule your life. Sometimes, it may feel like you’re just treading water, but a lifeline is always in the distance to pull you back to shore.
Treatment is available for those who are battling an anxiety disorder. Both mental and physical symptoms can be addressed, and treatment can give those struggling the opportunity to feel relief. While medication can be used to treat anxiety, it isn’t always needed. Therapy is also an option to help you learn how to better manage your disorder. It’s also important to have a support system in place. All of these things can put you on a path to recovery.
Everyone is different, which means treatment for you may be different from what it would be for someone else. Don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than you anticipated. The path to recovery is a journey, not a race.
According to mentalhealth.gov, recovery is defined as improving health and wellness, living a self-directed life, and striving to achieve full potential. The four dimensions of recovery are health, home, purpose, and community.
Always be aware of your own mental health. Take time to step back and evaluate how you’re doing, and look for any behavioral changes. If you think you’re struggling with a mental health disorder, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
While separation anxiety disorder is more common for children and adolescents, adults can be diagnosed with the condition as well. According to the National Institutes of Health, “One of the marked differences in children diagnosed with separation anxiety compared to adults is the type of attachment figures involved. In the case of children, the attachment figures are usually adults, such as parents. Adults, in contrast, experience anxiety when experiencing real or anticipated separation from children, spouses, or romantic partners.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes child and adolescent separation anxiety disorder. Studies show 60% of children with separation anxiety disorder have a related anxiety disorder. Around 30% have been diagnosed with phobias or generalized anxiety disorder. In some cases, it can be related to depression.
The average age of those diagnosed is 7.5 years old. Many studies show separation anxiety usually gets better around the age of 3. At this age, they will begin to find a small amount of independence, which tends to get better over time. If separation anxiety persists past that age, caregivers should consult with a medical professional to discuss the potential of separation anxiety disorder. If your child is diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, it can be treated.
Symptoms may be different for each child. Common symptoms include throwing tantrums when separated from the caregiver, always needing to be around the caregiver, following the caregiver around, and always needing to know where the caregiver is located.
A separation anxiety disorder may be treated with either behavioral therapy or medication. While medication isn’t always needed, some medical professionals may recommend antidepressants for severe cases. It’s important to consult with a medical professional. They will help determine what’s right for you.
The capable team at SUN Columbus has been serving our community for years. Reach out to begin your journey to recovery.
Skip the emergency room and come to SUN for all of your behavioral health and substance use disorder needs
For a medical emergency, including a drug or medication overdose, call 911 immediately.