Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a type of anxiety illness that affects a lot of kids. SAD is an amplification of usually developmentally appropriate anxiety characterised by excessive worry, fear, and even terror of the actual or impending separation from an attachment figure. Despite the fact that separation anxiety is a developmentally acceptable phenomenon, the condition manifests with unsuitable intensity or inappropriate context and age.
This article provides insight into causal factors, phenomenology, treatment, and management options for separation anxiety disorder.
What is Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)?
In early childhood, anxiety resulting due to separation from close attachment figures is natural and adaptive. Separation anxiety is associated with progressively disordered self-perceptions and insufficient homeostatic regulation of internal object connections when this significant emotional state persists throughout later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Separation anxiety leads to difficulties in functioning in the absence of the individual’s attachment figure or mother or home. Separation anxiety frequently occurs in conjunction with mood, anxiety, and personality disorders. It has long been thought to play a formative role in the development of the panic disorder.
What are the causes?
SAD is thought to be caused by both biological and environmental causes, according to experts. Anxiety is something that a newborn may inherit. A chemical imbalance in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) is most likely to blame.
Family members and others can instill a child's dread and terror. SAD can also be brought on by a distressing/traumatic incident.
From the standpoint of neural structures latent in fear and reward, separation anxiety is thought to be caused by the overactivation of fear pathways in response to separation and an underactivation of reward pathways in response to the reunion. However, it appears probable that reported functional variations in fear and reward circuits in people with separation anxiety are the consequence of irregularities or inadequacies in the systems that underpin social representation, rather than the cause.
How does SAD affect the developing child and the family?
Despite its prevalence, it has the potential to severely impede a child's social and emotional development. Avoidance of anxiety-provoking circumstances, such as separation from attachment figures or home, is a common component of it as it is with other anxiety disorders. As a result, if SAD leads to avoidance of specific places, events, and situations that are essential for healthy growth, it has the potential to have a major impact on one's developmental trajectory. When children with SAD are separated from an attachment figure, they are often afraid that something bad may happen, leading to a failure to engage in developmentally appropriate activities with their peers. SAD can lead to a school boycott and a drop in academic performance, in its most severe form.
Aside from avoidance and clinging tendencies, children with SAD frequently exhibit oppositional behaviours, which can interfere significantly with family dynamics and the socialization process. Upon separation, a child may throw a tantrum or refuse to follow directions. SAD is also accompanied by somatic symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, and nausea.
When a child's separation anxiety limits the activities of siblings and parents, it has an impact on overall family activity and parental stress. Parents may grow dissatisfied because they are unable to spend time alone, while siblings may object to the symptomatic child receiving more attention.
Patient and parent knowledge, support, and encouragement may be enough to enable the patient to resume normal activities in the case of mild symptoms. Psychotherapeutic or psychopharmacological intervention may be required in the case of moderate or severe symptoms. In following visits, irrespective of treatment, the clinician should assess the patient using standardized assessment measures (e.g., SCARED) to look for changes in symptoms over time.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are useful in the treatment of Separation anxiety disorder in both children and adults (CSAD & ASAD) in many randomised clinical trials.
Separation anxiety, which is acknowledged as a normal concern throughout a child's early development, usually starts to fade about 30 months. When this develops into a disorder, it is a debilitating and costly problem that affects children in their early years of schooling. Whilst separation anxiety frequently causes parents and school professionals to seek psychological help for children who are suffering more severe symptoms, the scientific understanding of the epidemiology, evaluation, and treatment of this illness is still in its early stages.
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A friendly reminder: We've done our research, but you should too! Check our sources against your own and always exercise sound judgment.
https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/28899 https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13060781 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2788956/ https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=separation-anxiety-disorder-90-P02582 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732357/ Butcher, J. N., Mineka, S., Hooley, J. M. (2013). Abnormal Psychology. Pearson.
About the Author
Content Writer for The Hope Project (Delhi, India)
Ishika Jain is a student of Psychology honors from the University of Delhi, armed with hands-on knowledge in research, public health, and health tech. She has worked in the field of global mental health, community research, and intervention, assisting in science communication and research writing. She has a keen interest in Neuropsychology, with a blend of neuroscience, philosophy, and interpersonal contact.
Butcher, J. N., Mineka, S., Hooley, J. M. (2013). Abnormal Psychology. Pearson.