Separation Anxiety Disorder

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Separation anxiety disorder is a condition that affects somewhere between 4 and 5% of UK children under the age of 12. Less commonly, this condition also affects teenagers, with approximately 1-2% of UK teens between the ages of 13 and 17 suffering from the disorder. Surprisingly enough, separation anxiety can happen in adults as well. Indeed, the UK adult age group (i.e. over 18 years) has the highest percentage of separation anxiety sufferers: just slightly under 7%.

Separation anxiety, in itself, is not a disorder. It is a normal developmental phase for toddlers and young children, who start out life with a shaky grasp of the notion of objects’ independent existence. For many young children, it does not always follow that, if mummy leaves the room, she continues to exit. Thus, it’s understandable for these young tykes to protest, cry, and cling to the proverbial mother’s apron strings when she threatens them with being left alone.

By the time most children reach the age of six or so, however, they usually acquire a firmer grasp of reality. Most of these older children eventually acquire a sense of themselves as independent from their parents, and of their parents’ independence from them. They also acquire a sense of time. They become aware that, even if their parents leave the room, they will return. Separations become calmer.

A child is said to exhibit sings of separation anxiety disorder if his or her separation anxiety persists beyond the age of six, and becomes severe enough to interfere with normal life. Marcel Proust arguably suffered from separation anxiety disorder, when, even as a teenager he feared going to bed, where he would be beyond the reach of his beloved mother. When we read Swann’s Way we are unsure of the narrator’s age. Although his reflections on literature strike us as those of a young teenager, his attitude towards his mother (and, indeed, towards his whole family) strike as as those of a child of five or six.

Meanwhile, the American film Psycho shows a highly dramatised example of separation anxiety disorder in adults. The main killer Norman Bates dotes on the corpse of his mother, unable to separate himself from his beloved caretaker even in her death. Surprisingly, many adults develop separation anxiety disorder after a perfectly normal childhood. As these individuals enter the frightening world of adulthood, they seem to shrink back in fear, and regress to the level of six-year-old children.

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1 Comment

  1. Mir Sajad
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Separation anxiety disorder is problem that can lead to altered perception of the or derailed belief.

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