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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What are causes and risk factors for separation anxiety disorder?

Separation anxiety disorder (as with most mental-health conditions) is likely caused by the combination of genetic and environmental vulnerabilities rather than by any one thing.

In addition to being more common in children with family histories of anxiety, children whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy with them tend to be more at risk for developing this disorder.

A majority of children with separation anxiety disorder have school refusal as a symptom and up to 80% of children who refuse school qualify for the diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder. Approximately 50%-75% of children who suffer from this disorder come from homes of low socioeconomic status.

How is separation anxiety disorder diagnosed?

Health-care professionals who have training and experience understanding symptoms of children and adolescents are usually the most qualified to assess separation anxiety disorder. The assessment most often involves a pediatrician and child psychologist, child psychiatrist, or other mental-health professional interviewing both the child and his or her parent(s) when assessing separation anxiety disorder. Those interviews often take place separately to allow everyone to speak freely. This is particularly important given how differently children and their parents may see the situation and how difficult it can be for children to hear their problems discussed. In addition to asking about specific symptoms of anxiety, the professional will likely explore whether the child has symptoms of any other mental-health issues and will recommend that the child receive a full physical examination and lab work to ensure that there is no medical reason for the issues the child is experiencing.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/24/2016

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