Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder exhibits as an excessive fear or anxiety when away from one's major attachment figure (e.g. parents), resulting in emotional distress, sleep difficulties or rumination.

While it is normal for infants and toddlers to be in distress when away from their primary caregivers, most individuals outgrow separation anxiety by the age of 3. In some children, separation anxiety manifests more intensely, and this is known as Separation Anxiety Disorder. This disorder, although less frequent, may also be present in teenagers and adults.


Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

  • Refusing to sleep alone
  • Being very clingy
  • Panic or temper tantrums at times of separation
  • Excessive worrying when anticipating or actually being away from home
  • Fear of getting lost or separated from family
  • Fearful and reluctance to go out (e.g. avoiding school/work)
  • Extensive worrying about events that causes separation (e.g. being kidnapped, death of loved ones) 
  • Repeated nightmares with a theme of separation


Risk Factors

✽   Biological Factors

  • Genetics (e.g. A family history of anxiety disorder) 
  • Chemical imbalance in the brain

✽   Environmental Factors

  • Novelty: Moving to a new house, school or disastrous events causing separation
  • Emotional: A divorce or the loss of loved ones can contribute to separation anxiety
  • Insecure Attachment: Having unmet security and understanding needs, especially in children 
  • Others' Behaviour: Stress or over-protectiveness from others may feed one's anxiety


Treatment for Separation Anxiety Disorder

✽   Psychotherapy

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps us to understand the roots of our anxiety and better handle such situations 
  • Family Therapy helps to improve communication within the family unit and challenge the anxiety appropriately
  • Play Therapy is especially helpful for children to express their feelings 

✽   Medication 

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Fluvoxamine can be used to relieve symptoms of anxiety.