Separation Anxiety (cont.)

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What are the symptoms and signs of separation anxiety disorder?

Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder may include

  • repeated excessive anxiety about something bad happening to loved ones or losing them;
  • heightened concern about either getting lost or being kidnapped;
  • repeated hesitancy or refusal to go to day care or school or to be alone or without loved ones or other adults who are important to the anxious child;
  • persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep at nighttime without being physically close to adult loved ones;
  • repeated nightmares about being separated from the people who are important to the sufferer;
  • and/or recurrent physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches, when separation either occurs or is expected.

To qualify for the diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder, a minimum of three of the above symptoms must persist for at least a month and cause significant stress or problems with school, social relationships, or some other area of the sufferer's life. Also, the disorder is not considered to be present if symptoms only take place when the child is suffering from certain other mental-health problems, such as schizophrenia or from a specific kind of developmental disability called pervasive developmental disorder. School refusal, also called school phobia, may be a symptom of separation anxiety disorder, but it can also occur as a symptom of other anxiety disorders and is not a diagnosis by itself.

Social phobia, also an anxiety disorder, differs from separation anxiety disorder in that social phobia is characterized by severe fear of most, if not all, social situations, not just events that result in separating from primary caregivers. This illness affects about 1% of children and adolescents and up to 5% of adults.

Individuals with social phobia may be children, teenagers, or adults, and the anxiety may interfere with the person's ability to function. Children with this problem may have difficulty with a number of ordinary activities, such as playing with their peers, talking in class, or speaking to adults.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/23/2014

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