Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Separation anxiety disorder facts

  • Infants show stranger anxiety by crying when someone unfamiliar approaches.
  • Separation anxiety as a normal life stage first develops at about 7 months of age, once object permanence has been established. It is at its strongest at 10-18 months of age and usually subsides by 3 years of age.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is a normal stage of development that usually begins in childhood and is characterized by worrying out of proportion to the situation of temporarily leaving home or otherwise separating from loved ones.
  • Approximately 4%-5% of children and adolescents suffer from separation anxiety disorder.
  • Examples of separation anxiety disorder symptoms include school or work refusal or school or work phobia, resistance to going to bed at night, and physical complaints in reaction to actual or anticipated separation from primary caretakers.
  • Professionals trained and experienced in assessing mental health in children will likely interview the afflicted individual and that person's parents or other loved ones separately and ask about symptoms of anxiety, screen for other mental-health conditions, and recommend that the anxiety sufferer receive a full medical evaluation.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is likely caused by the combination of genetic and environmental vulnerabilities. Risk factors include low socioeconomic status, family histories of anxiety, and mothers who were stressed during pregnancy.
  • A majority of children with separation anxiety disorder have school refusal as a symptom. Up to 80% of children who refuse school qualify for a diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder.
  • Counseling is usually considered the best treatment method compared to medications. Types of counseling used to treat separation anxiety disorder include behavioral, cognitive, and individual psychotherapies, as well as parent counseling and guiding teachers on how to help the person with the disorder.
  • SSRIs like fluvoxamine are considered the safest and most effective medications to treat separation anxiety disorder, followed by tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), with benzodiazepines as a last resort.
  • People with separation anxiety disorder are at higher risk for developing other mental-health problems, particularly anxiety disorders.
  • Educating parents on ways to help their child cope with anxiety may be helpful in preventing the development of separation anxiety disorder.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/24/2016

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