Separation anxiety may be a normal stage of development for infants and toddlers. Young children often experience a period of separation anxiety, but most youngsters outgrow separation anxiety by about 3 years aged.
In some children, separation anxiety may be a sign of a more serious condition referred to as separation mental disorder, starting as early as preschool age.
If your child's separation anxiety seems intense or prolonged — especially if it interferes with school or other daily activities or includes panic attacks or other problems — he or she may have separation anxiety disorder. Most frequently this relates to the child's anxiety about his or her parents, but it could relate to a different close caregiver.
Less often, separation mental disorder also can occur in teenagers and adults, causing significant problems leaving home or getting to work. But treatment can help.
Separation mental disorder is diagnosed when symptoms are excessive for the age and cause significant distress in daily functioning. Symptoms may include:
Ø Recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loved ones
Ø Constant, excessive worry about losing a parent or other loved one to an illness or a disaster
Ø Refusing to be away from home because of fear of separation
Ø Not wanting to be home alone and without a parent or other loved one in the house
Ø Reluctance or refusing to sleep away from home without a parent or other loved one nearby
Ø Repeated nightmares about separation
Ø Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other symptoms
When to see a doctor
Separation mental disorder usually won't get away without treatment and may cause anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders into adulthood.
If you've got concerns about your child's separation anxiety, ask your child's pediatrician or other health care provider.
Sometimes, separation mental disorder is often triggered by life stress that leads to separation from a beloved. Genetics may also play a role in developing the disorder.
Separation mental disorder most frequently begins in childhood, but may continue into the teenage years and sometimes into adulthood.
Risk factors may include:
Ø Life stresses or loss that result in separation, such as the illness or death of a loved one, loss of a beloved pet, divorce of parents, or moving or going away to school
Ø Certain temperaments, which are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are
Ø Family history, including blood relatives who have problems with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, indicating that those traits could be inherited
Ø Environmental issues, such as experiencing some type of disaster that involves separation
Separation mental disorder causes major distress and problems functioning in social situations or at work or school.
Disorders that can accompany separation anxiety disorder include:
Ø Other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia
Ø Obsessive-compulsive disorder
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