Highlighting less known issues not in the media spotlight: Separation anxiety
Over recent years mental health has gained increasing attention within the media, with celebrities such as Prince William and Harry talking openly about their own struggles of mental health, and Love Island star Dr. Alex George recently being appointed Youth Mental Health Ambassador.
When thinking about mental health it is important to remember that everyone has mental health, and that like physical health, we may from time to time have some difficulties and this is completely normal!
Feelings of anxiety, low mood, anger etc. are all completely natural experiences and it would be unusual if we didn’t all experience these feelings from time to time. But sometimes these feelings can be hard to manage and can begin to have an impact on our day to day living.
Separation anxiety in particular can have a big impact on a person's day to day functioning. When thinking about separation anxiety, there is often an assumption that this is something that happens during our early years: babies crying when mum leaves the room, or 3 year olds not wanting to go into nursery, however many older children and teenagers struggle with separation anxiety.
So, what is separation anxiety and what are the signs and symptoms?
Separation anxiety is frequent distress or worry when away from someone close to us, for young people this is usually parents or caregivers. Often young people with separation anxiety will worry that something bad is going to happen to their parent/caregiver when they are not there, or conversely that something bad is going to happen to them if the caregiver is not there to protect them. If a child or young person is struggling with separation anxiety common behaviours that you might notice can include; not wanting to go into school, not wanting to spend time away from home or the caregiver, not wanting to be alone at home, experiencing nightmares about being away from the caregiver, constantly seeking reassurance or when away from the caregiver, calling and messaging them repeatedly.
What can I do to help?
If you are worried your child might be experiencing separation anxiety, start by listening to their worries and show empathy. Avoid statements such as “don’t be silly” or “don’t worry about that”, instead try “that sounds really tough” or “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way”. Try and keep reassurance to a reasonable amount, providing too much reassurance can feed into the anxiety and may affirm to your child that there is something to worry about. To help your child overcome their separation anxiety, the separation between the child and parent needs to be built upon slowly over time.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that can help with separation anxiety. Through CBT the practitioner will help the child develop an
understanding of their anxiety and learn what is keeping their anxiety going. They will develop skills to manage their anxiety and challenge those negative thinking styles. Often with separation
anxiety the parent will be asked to participate in sessions too, so they can learn how they can support their child to gain control of their fears.