How to Deal With Separation Anxiety/Dr. Mark Banschick

Posted on December 6, 2011


One of the biggest psychological stressors in an adult’s life is the breakup of an intimate relationship.  This and other traumatizing events can cause emotional distress in otherwise mentally healthy people and mental disorders in those who are more vulnerable biologically, psychologically or socially.  According to the Surgeon General, divorce is the quintessential example:  Between 30 and 40% of people experiencing a divorce say that they notice an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Those with a personal history of depression and/or less social support are often in this category.  Single mothers are twice as likely to suffer from depression as married mothers.  Divorce can alter a person’s universe, physically and mentally.

It can kick off a number of disorders – Separation Anxiety Disorder is one of them.  The signs and symptoms include fears that someone is going to kidnap a child or their parents, inability to stay in bed, intrusive nightmares, and difficulty settling down for sleep. Sometimes it can be so powerful that a child will refuse to go to school, they will get stomach aches that will prevent them from going to school, or they will force the school nurse to send them home.

As with those previously mentioned, this disorder usually runs in the family. Take a look to see if you or your spouse has any anxiety disorders running in your family backgrounds. Divorce is a breaking of trust for most children. They expected a family to continue forever and when it breaks some kids feel like the bottom has fallen out.

So don’t be surprised if there’s an increase in separation anxiety soon after mom or dad moves out. There is treatment and it includes supportive psychotherapy, reassurance, and occasionally, but not necessarily, medication. If a child is refusing to go to school, you have a serious problem on your hands that needs intervention. It’s like falling off a horse – they longer you’re off that horse or out of school the harder it is to get back into the swing of things.

In my experience, separation anxiety disorder is quite treatable, but it is something that parents often postpone for too long. After a divorce, get help and take your own pulse as well – you don’t need any extra anxiety during this time.  Anxiety can be exacerbated by economic struggles and a lack of social support.  Be sure to do everything in your power to get the support that you need.  Don’t be too worried because your child should get better with a little bit of time and treatment.

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