By: Kristen O'Neill
Separation Anxiety. The term brings to mind children clinging to their mothers, or a pet that misbehaves after the owner has left the house. People rarely think of adults suffering from this anxiety disorder, and why should they? Up until just a few years ago, the disorder wasn’t even diagnosed unless the age of onset was before eighteen (Bögels, Knappe, and Clark). With the publication of new guidelines in 2013, the medical community may be more aware of adults with separation anxiety disorder, but the general public may still be in the dark.
For starters, Separation Anxiety is not merely the fear of being alone. Rather, it is also characterized by the fear of losing select people a person is close to (Bögels, Knappe, and Clark). A case study by researchers from the New York State Psychiatric Institute described a man with separation anxiety that on the surface merely made him seem like a “highly-involved but overprotective father and spouse” (Bögels, Knappe, and Clark). In reality, his disorder crossed the line of just overprotective. When his wife was driving in a new area, he became convinced they would crash. He didn’t want his wife to work outside their home for fear of something happening to her. And when his 18 year old son wanted to take the train to another city, he went on to suggest the whole family take the train along with him to make sure he would be safe (Bögels, Knappe, and Clark).
Adults with separation anxiety disorder may not be regarded as having an actual condition – instead their overly attached and strange behavior can be interpreted as overbearing and clingy or even senseless when it comes to their fears of disastrous situations. A team of researchers from three different universities also speculated that these feelings may manifest as overtly jealous or aggressive behavior, although they noted that because of the relative ignorance in the field a lot more research needs to be conducted (Bögels, Knappe, and Clark).
Anxiety Disorder in children has been treated effectively using cognitive behavioral therapy (Schneider et al.), which focuses on finding correlations between negative thoughts or situations and the potential patient responses (“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”). Though more research needs to be conducted, it’s possible this method would also be effective in adults as it is an effective therapy in other anxiety disorders (Bögels, Knappe, and Clark). Overall, this disorder can be a debilitating one, and the extreme behaviors some patients can exhibit negatively affect their personal lives and well-being. Raising awareness of this disorder as one that afflicts adults as well as children and supporting more research may help patients and their families better understand symptoms and treatments.
Bögels, Susan M., Susanne Knappe, and Lee Anna Clark. "Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder in DSM-5." Clinical Psychology Review 33.5 (2013): 663-74. ScienceDirect. Elsevier B.V. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735813000469>
"Cognitive Behavioral Therapy." Mayo Clinic. 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/basics/definition/prc-20013594>
Schneider, Silvia, Judith Blatter-Meunier, Chantal Herren, Carmen Adornetto, Tina In-Albon, and Kristen Lavallee. "Disorder-specific Cognitive-behavioral Therapy for Separation Anxiety Disorder in Young Children: A Randomized Waiting-list-controlled Trial." Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 14 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. <http://www.kli.psy.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/kkjp/team/public/Schneider Journals/2011/Schneider et al._Disorderspecific cognitive behavioral treatment.pdf>.