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Separation Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

Authors:
17
Separation Anxiety in
Children and Adolescents
Malgorzata Dabkowska1, Aleksander Araszkiewicz1,
Agnieszka Dabkowska2 and Monika Wilkosc3,1
1Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun, Collegium Medicum, Bydgoszcz
2Lord's Transfiguration University Hospital in Poznan
3Institute of Psychology, Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz
Poland
1. Introduction
Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychological disorders in younger
patients, affecting 6% to 20% of developed countries children and adolescents (Walkup et al.
2008). Separation anxiety is the only anxiety disorder restricted to infancy, childhood, or
adolescence (APA, 2000). Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is defined by developmentally
inappropriate, excessive, persistent, and unrealistic worry about separation from attachment
figures, most commonly parents or other family members. Youths with SAD display distress
before separation or during attempts at separation. These children worry excessively about
their own or their parents' safety and health when separated, have difficulty sleeping alone,
experience nightmares with themes of separation, frequently have somatic complaints, and
may exhibit school refusal. Children with separation anxiety disorder exhibit varying
degrees of avoidant behaviour that correlate with the severity of their symptoms (Albano et
al. 2003). This kind of anxiety in adolescents and schoolchildren significantly interferes with
daily activities and developmental tasks. Children with separation anxiety disorder are
usually brought to the clinician when SAD results in school refusal or embarrassing somatic
symptoms. When analyzing responses to shown images, relative to controls, children with
anxiety disorders experience greater negative emotional responses to the presented images,
are less successful at applying reappraisals, but show intact ability to reduce their negative
emotions following reappraisal. They also may report less frequent use of reappraisal in
everyday life (Carthy et al, 2010).
2. The risk factors and background of the separation anxiety
In the aetiology of SAD play a part a complex interplay of biological and genetic
vulnerabilities, temperamental qualities, negative environmental influences and negative
attachment experiences, parental psychopathology and disadvantageous socio-cultural
factors (Pine & Grun, 1999).
Biological risk factors include genetics and child temperament. Studies of environmental
risk factors in the development of childhood anxiety disorders have focused on parent-child
interactions and parental anxiety.
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2.1 Genetic influence
Evidence suggests a genetic link between separation anxiety disorders in children and a
history of panic disorder, anxiety, or depression in their parents. Infants with anxious
temperaments may have a predisposition toward later development of anxiety disorders.
Findings from a number of studies, including Bird et al. (1989), have implicated age of subject
and low socioeconomic status as putative risk factors for separation anxiety. Low self-esteem
was found to increase risk for the development of anxiety in general. Parental depression
played a more important role in the development of anxiety disorders in offspring. Other
results of genetic studies of children with separation anxiety (Topolsky et al., 1997) suggested
that shared environmental effects are more important than genetic factors in the aetiology of
SAD. The liability threshold for SAD is higher for males and increases with age (Tari et al.,
1997). Genetic factors seem to play an important role in shaping the co-occurrence of different
anxiety dimensions in childhood (Ogliari et al., 2010). Results of a unique 30-year longitudinal
study of a group from one town in New Zealand (Gibb et al., 2011) showed that relationship
separation is associated with increased rates of depression, suicidal behaviour, and total
mental health problems. Parental anxiety disorder has been associated with increased risk of
anxiety disorder in offspring. Family aggregation studies suggest that children whose parents
have an anxiety disorder are at risk for developing an anxiety disorder themselves. Twin
studies also suggest a familial transmission. Separation anxiety disorder in the offspring can be
accounted for by the same disorders in the parent (Biederman et al., 2006). Children of anxious
parents are likely to have an earlier onset for anxiety disorders than their parents. This
phenomenon can be explained as anxious parents can model fear and anxiety, reinforce
anxious coping behaviour, and unwittingly maintain avoidance, despite their desire to be of
help to their child (Dadds et al., 2001).Lifetime maternal anxiety disorders are related to
offspring anxiety disorders. Findings confirm the transmission of anxiety disorders from
mother to offspring (Martini et al., 20010).
2.2 Gender
Some studies (Bowen et al. 1990) report a significantly higher prevalence of SAD in girls
than boys. In the previously mentioned New Zealand study, an overrepresentation of
females was noted among the preadolescent children with separation anxiety disorder
(Anderson et al., 1987). Also, higher rates in females than in males were observed among
high school students with SAD in Lewinsohn and colleagues (1993) study. It should be
noted, however, that there are no reported gender differences in symptomatology (Last et
al., 1987). A study including preschool 4-year-old children (Lavigne et al., 2009) showed no
gender differences for separation anxiety disorder at any level of impairment, and race or
ethnicity differences were not significant. Gender differences have not been observed,
although girls do present more often with anxiety disorders in general.
2.3 Temperament
Emotion deregulation is believed to be a key factor in anxiety disorders. Anxious children
demonstrate greater intensity and frequency of negative emotional responses relative to
controls, deficits in using reappraisal in negative emotional situations and corresponding
deficits in reappraisal self-efficacy, and greater reliance on emotion regulation strategies that
increase the risk of functional impairment, intense negative emotion, and low emotion
regulation self-efficacy (Carthy et al., 2010b). The vigilance-avoidance attention pattern is
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315
found in anxious adults and children, who initially gaze more at threatening pictures than
non-anxious adults and children (vigilance), but subsequently gaze less at them than non-
anxious adults and children (avoidance) (In-Albon et al., 2010). A Korean study (Soo-churl
et al., 2009) evaluated temperament and character of children and adolescents with anxiety
disorders, in part subjects with separation anxiety, using the Junior Temperament and
Character Inventory (JTCI). Separation anxiety disorder was not associated with any
temperament and character on the JTCI, opposite to others anxiety diagnosis. Children and
adolescents with anxiety disorders could have different temperaments and character
profiles in accordance with diagnostic groups, which imply the specific pathophysiological
mechanism of each anxiety disorder (Soo-churl et al., 2009).
2.4 Family parent/child attachment
Parenting stress, parental psychopathology, and family functioning are associated with
child anxiety (Victor et al., 2007). Separation anxiety would appear to be a core form of
anxiety that is associated with anxious attachment. Overprotective, overcontrolling, and
overly critical parenting styles that limit the development of autonomy and mastery may
also contribute to the development of anxiety disorders in children with temperamental
vulnerability. Rejection and control by parents may be positively related to later anxiety and
depression (Rapee, 1997). Insecure attachment relationships with caregivers and,
specifically, anxious/resistant attachment can increase the risk of childhood anxiety
disorders (Manassis & Hood, 1998; Warren et al., 1997). Different attachment patterns
(secure, ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized) may relate to different types of anxiety
symptoms, and that behavioural inhibition may moderate these relations. In a sample of 10 -
12-year olds in Brumariu & Kerns study (2010), security attachment was related to lower
levels of all types of anxieties, except separation anxiety. Ambivalence attachment was
positively related to separation anxiety, although this relation was stronger for boys.
Although avoidance attachment was not related to anxiety and disorganization was
positively correlated to somatic symptoms, social phobia, and school phobia. Behavioural
inhibition moderated the relations of security with social phobia and of disorganization with
school phobia (Brumariu & Kerns, 2010).
2.5 Environmental changes
Anxiety states in children can be associated with exposure to negative life events. Separation
anxiety disorder is often precipitated by change or stress in the child's life. Symptoms of
separation anxiety disorder may be exacerbated by a change in routine, illness, lack of
adequate rest, a family move, or change in family structure (such as death, divorce, parent
illness, birth of a sibling), starting a new school, a traumatic event, or even a return to school
after summer vacation. The child's symptoms may also be affected by a change in caregivers
or changes in parents' response to the child in terms of discipline, availability, or daily
routine. Even if changes are positive or exciting, the change may feel uncomfortable and
precipitate an anxious response in the child.
2.6 Economical factors
Most children with anxiety disorders are from middle to upper-middle class families;
however, 50 to 75% of those with SAD come from low socioeconomic status homes (Last et
al., 1987; Last et al., 1992; Velez et al., 1989).
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316
3. The prevalence of the disorder
Anxiety disorders as a whole are the most common psychiatric disorders in children and
adolescents, with a reported prevalence ranging from 6 to 18%.
Shaffer et al. found that approximately 20% of American children have an impairing anxiety
disorder (Shaffer et al., 1995), but even 25% of Dutch children met criteria for an anxiety
disorder (Verhulst et al., 1997). When using a higher impairment threshold, a rate of anxiety
disorders was closer to 5% (Costello et al. 1996). In a large sample of adolescents, prevalence
rates were found at 3.6% of subjects (Bowen et al., 1990). Different epidemiological studies
indicate a prevalence of SAD in 4 to 5% children and adolescents. The 12-month prevalence
of SAD is generally estimated at around 5%, but there is a significant variation between
studies (2-13%)(Costello & Angold, 1995). Among 11-year-old children from the general
New Zealand population was found a 1-year rate of 3.5% for SAD (Anderson et al., 1987). In
the same population three years later, the prevalence of SAD decreased to 2% (McGee et al.,
1990).
In Bird and colleagues’ study, diagnosis of SAD in the sample of 4- to 16-year-old Puerto
Rican children was made in 4.7% of the children (Bird et al., 1988). The lifetime prevalence
of SAD in a randomly selected sample of adolescents was 4.3% (Lewinsohn et al., 1993). A
Canadian epidemiological study (1999) found that the 6-month prevalence of SAD was 4.9%
in children aged 6 to 8 years and 1.3% in adolescents aged 12 to 14 years (Breton et al., 1999).
A study from an Australian community sample of preadolescent children found a rate of
4.2% for SAD (Prior et al., 1999). Self-report interviews with juvenile subjects yield a higher
prevalence of SAD than interviews with adult informants, and agreement between
informants ranges between low and moderate (Grills & Ollendick, 2003). Little is known
about the development of anxiety symptoms from late childhood to late adolescence. In Van
Oort and colleagues’ (2009) study, anxiety symptoms were assessed in a large community
sample of boys and girls at three time-points across a 5-year interval. In that general
population, anxiety symptoms first decrease during early adolescence, and subsequently
increase from middle to late adolescence (Van Oort et al., 2009). Prevalence estimates of
separation anxiety disorder are between 4 and 5% in the population (Masi et al., 2001). Of
those diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, approximately 75% experience school
refusal.
4. Classification criteria of the separation anxiety disorder
Separation anxiety disorder represents a more severe and disabling form of a maturational
experience that all children normally have. As specified in DSM-IV-TR criteria, separation
anxiety disorders are defined largely by the persistence of such symptoms for long enough
duration to be considered pathological (APA, 2000). In DSM-IV, disorders that have been
long recognized as manifesting during childhood are placed in a separate category,
“Disorders usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood or adolescence.” For the anxiety
disorders, this includes only separation anxiety disorder (SAD) in DSM-IV. A DSM-IV-TR-
based diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder requires that a child exhibits at least three of
the following symptoms for at least four weeks (APA, 2000). The characteristic symptoms
include three types of distress or worry, three types of behaviours and two physiological
symptoms.
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DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for separation anxiety disorder (309.21):
a. Developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from
home or from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by three (or more)
of the following:
1. recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment
figures occurs or is anticipated
2. persistent and excessive worry about losing, or about possible harm befalling,
major attachment figures
3. persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from
a major attachment figure (e.g., getting lost or being kidnapped)
4. persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because of fear of
separation
5. persistently and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major
attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings
6. persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major
attachment figure or to sleep away from home
7. repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation
8. repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomach aches,
nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is
anticipated
b. The duration of the disturbance is at least 4 weeks.
c. The onset is before age of 18.
d. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic
(occupational), or other important areas of functioning.
e. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of a Pervasive
Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, or other Psychotic Disorder and, in
adolescents and adults, is better not accounted for by Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.
Specify if:
Early Onset: if onset occurs before age 6 years (APA, 2000).
Diagnostic guidelines of the ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders
World Health Organization lists similar criteria for separation anxiety disorder (F93.0)
(WHO, 1992). The number of studies with clinical samples from zero to 3 year is very
limited. The assessments for children zero to 3 years of age are rare and even less common
for children aged 0 to 1 year of age. The few prevalence studies in epidemiological samples
have concerned preschoolers and reported rates of psychopathology ranging from 7.8 to
50% (Beernink et al., 2007; Skovgaard et al., 2007). In the first study focused on infants
younger than 1 year of age, roughly 76% of the infants had an Axis I diagnosis, with anxiety
disorders and mixed disorder of emotional expressiveness being the most frequently
observed (Viaux-Savelon et al., 2010).
5. Course
The mean age of onset of the disorder is about 7.5 years (Last et al., 1992). Developmental
differences have been reported in the presentation of symptoms. Younger children have
more symptoms than older children. Children aged 5 to 8 years most commonly report
unrealistic worry about harm to attachment figures and school refusal. In children aged 9 to
12 years, the disorder usually manifests as excessive distress at times of separation (Francis
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318
et al., 1987). In adolescents, somatic complaints and school refusal are most common. The
most frequently observed ages for occurrence of separation anxiety disorder are in children
aged five to seven years and again from aged 11 to 14 years. Many studies report a declining
prevalence of SAD as children age into adolescence. Separation anxiety in children with
severe school refusal evokes often worry about the future with regard to professional career
and social integration. In Von Widdern & Lehmkuhl (2011) study, in the group of inpatient
treatment because of a separation anxiety disorder assessed at follow up ranged from 4.3 to
11.1 years (average 7.1 years) was found at least one clinical psychiatric diagnosis in one
third of all patients at follow-up. Even more of the formerly inpatients reported
subthreshold psychiatric symptoms (55%). Estimated remission rate for the separation
anxiety disorder was high (89%). The results revealed an important shift of diagnosis to
social phobia in one third of cases. The majority of young people considered academic
outcome satisfactory but reported pronounced problems in the social integration (Von
Widdern & Lehmkuhl, 2011). In Allen and colleagues’ (2010) study, among children aged 4-
15 years with a primary DSM-IV diagnosis of SAD, the most frequently reported symptoms
were separation-related distress, avoidance of being alone/without an adult and sleeping
away from caregivers or from home, with nightmares, the least frequently endorsed
criterion. Anxiety disorders in childhood are predictors of a range of psychiatric disorders in
adolescence. Results come from the Great Smoky Mountains Study indicated that childhood
SAD predicted adolescent SAD (Bittner et al., 2007). Among the participants of the Oregon
Adolescent Depression Project SAD was a strong risk factor (78.6%) for the development of
mental disorders during young adulthood. The major vulnerabilities were for panic
disorder and depression (Lewinsohn et al., 2008). The squeals of childhood anxiety
disorders include social, family, and academic impairments. Anxiety separation disorders
disrupt the normal psychosocial development of a child. Children with SAD may not have
the opportunity to develop independence from adults. Social problems include poor
problem-solving skills and low self-esteem. Severe separation anxiety can result intra-
familial violence.
6. A normative separation anxiety
The separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is qualitatively different from early worries and the
normative anxieties. Fear and worry are common in healthy children. Normal,
developmentally, fear does not impair a child's functioning. Infants typically experience fear
of loud noises, fear of being startled, and later a fear of strangers. Toddlers experience fears
of imaginary creatures, fears of darkness, and normative separation anxiety. School-age
children commonly have worries about injury and storms. Older children have worries and
fears related to school performance, social competence, and health issues. Fears during
childhood become problematic, if they do not subside with time and if they impair the
child's functioning. Depending on the age, developmental differences are observed in the
expression of childhood anxiety symptoms and fears. Results also point toward specific
symptoms predominant at certain ages (i.e., separation anxiety symptoms in youths aged 6-
9 years, in partial support of predictions (Weems et al., 2005). Normal separation distress
usually intensifies during early childhood, then gradually subsides at 3 to 5 years of age,
although a percentage of children continue to present closed relation to parents and
separation distress into their first school attendance. Separation anxiety diathesis may
manifest itself differently over the life span (Deltito & Hahn, 1993).
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319
7. Neurobiology of separation anxiety disorder
Literature still gives very little information on the nature of separation anxiety and evidence
based on longitudinal studies. Contemporary knowledge about anxiety is in a prominent
part based on animal studies. Up-to-date research has implicated the amygdala and circuits
related to these nuclei as being central to several aspects of fear and fear-related behaviors in
animals. It can be concluded that in an emotional response, a limbic system holds a key role.
Brain structures building this system determinates processing of information from an
emotional angle, and because of many projections from other brain regions it leads the best
coping method counteracting a threat stimulus (Cummins & Ninan, 2002; Lucey & Corvin,
2005). The amygdala, and its efferent projections, is mainly concerned with a central fear
system involved in expression and acquisition of conditioned fear (Cummins & Ninan, 2002;
Davis, 1992). One of important functions of the lateral nucleus is to associate conditioned
(particularly aversive) and unconditioned stimuli in the course of the anxiety reaction.
Because of this network medial nuclei modulates the autonomous and operational
components of a defensive reaction. It also coordinates an anxiety response in which a
connection with periaqueductal gray activates a freeze reaction to threatening stimulus.
Moreover, the connection with paraventricular nuclei of thalamus modulates the activity of
endocrine controlled process involved in regulation of autonomous nervous system
reaction. Another role of medial nuclei is due to the connection with the compressed
monoaminergic neurons in brainstem and cholinergic in Meynert basal nuclei. These
structures modulate nonspecific arousal (excitation) and attention mechanisms, which are
important in course of anxiety reaction. Due to numerous neuronal pathways with different
brain structures, medial nuclei take part in sensorial information reception from all
modalities, access to memory modules, regulation of perception and attention mechanisms,
and control of cognitive-motivation processes, which play an important role in decision
making and choosing the most adaptive coping reaction. The orbitofrontal cortex
dysfunction has been implicated in social anxiety disorder and specific phobia as a direct
reaction on a phobic object. Dichotomizing the orbitofrontal cortex into medial versus lateral
subdivisions according to positive and negative valence, in reward and punishment
expectation is well-founded. The limbic system and specified structures play significant role
in anxiety reaction and choice of adaptive coping methods in threatening situation. In
separation anxiety, its controlling activity does not seem to work properly. Etiopathogenesis
of anxiety disorders is multifactorial with a significant role played by neurotransmitters
pathways. Anxiety states are considered to be a result of insufficient inhibitory control. In
these disorders, a major role is played by the gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) system.
There are clinical studies proving a decreased GABAergic inhibition in anxiety disorders
(Bremner et al., 2000; Domschke & Zwanzger, 2000; Malizia et al. 1998). Deregulation of
serotoninergic and noradrenergic functions mediate many symptoms of depression and
anxiety disorders. Serotoninergic and noradrenergic dysfunction does not cause directly
these disorders. Their role in modulating and being modulated by other neurobiological
functions underlies abnormality in mood and anxiety states. Abnormal modulation of
cortical-hippocampal-amygdala axis contributes to chronic hypersensitive stress, as well as
fear responses. Quite possibly, this mechanism mediates features of anxiety (impaired
concentration and memory, uncontrollable worry), anhedonia, aggression, affective
discontrol (Ressler & Nemeroff, 2000). Schwartz (2003) et al. longitudinal studies showed
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320
that anxiousness correlated with high reactivity of amygdala in response to new stimuli.
Among children diagnosed in the age of two as inhibited temperament (timid, anxious,
avoidant in new situations) there were more intensive activation of amygdala recorded in
contrast to children diagnosed as no inhibited temperament.
7.1 Neuroimaging results in separation anxiety disorder in children
There is very few data about structural and functional neuroimaging in childhood
separation anxiety disorder. However, there is an association between separation anxiety
disorder and adult panic attacks or panic disorder (Battaglia et al., 1995; Klein, 1995; Pine et
al., 1998). Klein and Capps suggested in their investigations that there might be common,
heritable biological substrate for both of them (Capps et al., 1996; Klein 1993). The
relationship between parental panic disorder or parental depression and childhood
separation anxiety disorder is well-defined (Beidel et al., 1997; Capps et al., 1996; Last et al.,
1991; Warner et al., 1995; Weissmann et al., 1984). A study by Uchida et al. revealed in adult
patients with panic disorder relative increase in gray matter volume in the left insula, in the
left superior temporal gyrus, midbrain and pons, as well as relative gray matter deficit in the
anterior cingulate cortex of those patients as compared to controls (Uchida et al., 2008).
Reduced volume of temporal lobe was detected in other studies (Fontaine et al., 1990;
Ontiveros et al., 1989; Vythilingam et al., 2000). However, Massana et al. (2003) didn´t find
any changes in temporal lobe (probably because of excluding hippocampus and amygdala
in his Region of Interest investigations). There is an evidence of a dysfunction in
hippocampus, amygdala, cingulated gyrus revealed in functional magnetic resonance
imaging (Bystritsky et al., 2001). Grillon et al. (1997) examined enhanced startle reflex in
children of patients with anxiety. According to significance of the amygdala in the startle
reflex, this data indicates a potential role of amygdala-based circuits (and hypothetic
significance of the bed nucleus of the striaterminalis) in familial risk for anxiety. This report
is consistent with a study of increased stratial function to reward in adolescents with
temperamental anxiety (Guyer et al., 2006). The meta-analysis of functional magnetic
resonance and positron emission tomography studies of post-traumatic stress disorder,
social anxiety disorder, and specific phobia in adults showed that all three disorders
displayed hyperactivity in amygdala and insula (Etkin & Wager, 2007). In adult patients
with social anxiety disorder hyperactivity was seen in the amygdala, parahippocampal
gyrus, fusiform gyrus, globus pallidus, insula, inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal
gyrus. Adult patients with specific phobia showed hyperactivity in the amygdala, fusifirm
gyrus, substania nigra, insula and mid-cingulate (Etkin & Wager, 2007). Separation anxiety
disorder exhibits association with depression in adults. Functional brain changes in early
stages of depressive disorder in adults were displayed in three frequency bands of
electroencephalography (theta 4-7.5Hz, alpha 7.5-14Hz, beta 14-20Hz, both in Eyes closed
and Eyes open conditions). A diffuse enhancement of beta power (correlating with anxiety
symptoms) and an increase in theta and alpha activity at parietal occipital sites were
revealed (Grin-Yatsenko et al., 2010). The presence of structural and functional
abnormalities in the superior temporal gyrus and in the amygdala in children and adults
with generalized anxiety disorder was found (De Bellis et al., 2000, 2002; Quirk et al., 1997).
Adolescents with anxiety disorder displayed more extreme responses in anterior cingulate
cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex and ventral
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321
striatum than youth with depression (Forbes et al., 2006). A study comparing children with
and without anxiety (including separation anxiety disorder) reviewed reduction of the
volume of the left amygdala in the morphometric magnetic resonance imaging (Milham et
al., 2005). Reduced volume of the brain and of the mediosagittal area of the corpus callosum
and increased lateral ventricule (De Bellis et al., 2003), as well as reduced cerebellar volume
(De Bellis et al., 2006), but no changes in pituitary gland (Thomas et al., 2004) were found in
abused children with post-traumatic stress disorder.
7.2 Cognitive function in separation anxiety disorder
There is a very limited number of data concerning the cognitive functioning of children with
a separation anxiety disorder. However, the studies on cognition in anxiety disorders in
general, concentrate mainly on biases in attention, information processing, memory and
judgment that are considered to underlie them (Bar-Haim et al., 2007). Numerous research
studies in adults with anxiety disorders, demonstrating the attentional bias towards threat,
are ones of the major findings in this field. They emphasize a role of hyper-vigilance and
changes in selective attention in aetiology and maintenance of anxiety (Kindt & van den
Hout, 2001). The results of studies performed in anxious children are ambiguous. In the
work of Kindt et al. (2003) the processing bias was measured by one of the most often used
tools - the emotional Stroop task. It assessed colour-naming latency to threat-relevant and
neutral words in children with separation anxiety disorder, social phobia and generalized
anxiety disorder and normal controls. It was also controlled whether the bias is domain-
specific by monitoring the reactions of children with separation anxiety disorder on words
related to separation concerns, social phobia children on words associated with social
concerns, and children with generalized anxiety disorder on words linked to physical
concerns. They found no evidence for either an anxiety-related bias towards threat or a
domain-specificity effect (Kindt et al., 2003). The authors postulate that these discrepancies
between adult and children may be connected with age. They suggest that non-anxious
children learn with increasing age to inhibit the processing of threat, whereas anxious
children do not develop such ability. Thus, only at certain age the differences in processing
may be revealed. Moreover, they hypothesize that in adults the content of fear is more stable
and represented by domain-specific fear networks, while in children the content of fears
changes with the age. It may suggest that representations of fears in children are more
flexible and prone to assimilate disconfirming information. In-Albon et al. (2010) performed
a study using the eye tracking to identify vigilance-avoidance attention pattern in children
with separation anxiety disorder. The model observed in adults with anxiety disorders
predicts the initial vigilance for threat stimulus and then its subsequent avoidance. Children
were presented with series of pairs of photographs: one with a child separating from an
adult woman and the second one with a child reuniting with an adult woman. The results
obtained confirmed the vigilance-avoidance model in children with separation anxiety
disorder. In the attentional control theory, the influence of anxiety on the main executive
functions involving attentional control such as inhibition and shifting is postulated. These
changes may affect cognitive performance, e.g. memory. Yet, the effectiveness of
performance may not be affected when the compensatory strategies such as e.g. enhanced
effort or increased use of processing resources are engaged (Eysenck et al., 2007). The
prospective study of Pine et al. (1999) in prepubescent boys aged 7-11 years at risk of
delinquency showed verbal and visual memory deficits predicting future anxiety disorders:
Different Views of Anxiety Disorders
322
social phobia, separation anxiety disorder, overanxious disorder. In addition, the anxiety
symptoms were connected more significantly with lower memory ability than with reduced
intelligence (Pine et al., 1999). The work of Toren et al. (2000) in a group of children and
adolescents aged 6-18 year old presented verbal memory deficits measured by CVLT
(California Verbal Learning Test) in separation anxiety and overanxious disorders. Also, the
anxiety group performed worse than control group on WCST (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test)
measuring working memory, executive function and cognitive flexibility. They found no
correlation between anxiety and nonverbal processes (Toren et al., 2000). Vasa et al. (2007)
focused on a memory for non-emotional material in offspring with separation anxiety
disorder, social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder of parents with panic disorder or
major depressive disorder. They presented no relationship between visual memory and
verbal memory measured by WRAML (Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning)
and separation anxiety disorder. The study also indicated that IQ measured using The
Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (K-BIT) is a significant predictor of both visual and verbal
memory. What's more, they concluded that anxiety or depressive disorders in parents were
unrelated to memory performance in their offspring (Vasa et al., 2007). This finding is in
contrary with a study of Merikangas et al. (1999) who found that parental anxiety was
connected with visual memory deficits in offspring. They postulated that memory deficits
may be considered as a premorbid risk factor for childhood anxiety disorders (Merinkangas
et al., 1999). A 2009 study of Mikko et al. concentrated on the executive function of 6– 17
year old children of parents with major depression and/or panic disorder and of controls
with neither disorder. Children were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social
phobia, separation anxiety disorder and major depression. A large battery of
neuropsychological tests was used to assess cognitive performance. The only significant
difference in a group of children with separation anxiety related to their better performance
on the CPT (Continuous Performance Task) - False Alarms subtest. The main conclusion of
this study was that deficits in executive functioning and processing speed do not serve as
trait markers for developing depression or anxiety (Micco et al., 2009). In 2007, Mazzone et
al. performed a study, in a sample of children and adolescents attending from elementary to
high school, assessing a role of anxiety symptoms in school performance. They concluded
that frequency of high self-reported levels of anxiety increased with age and was negatively
associated with school performance (Mazzone et al., 2007). Such observation may lead to
conclusion that poorer performance at school of children with separation anxiety disorder
may be a one of the factor maintaining the increased level of anxiety and also leading to
school phobia.
8. Assessment
Separation anxiety disorder is usually under-diagnosed and undertreated. The recognition
of this kind of anxiety is important, because if not treated, it may affect the child’s normal
development. Separation anxiety disorder is generally diagnosed by history, including
parental reports; however, a few measures of general anxiety exist that can be used to
supplement the history. These include Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale, Children's Global
Assessment Scale, Children's Anxiety Scale, Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional
Disorders (SCARED-R), Multi-Dimensional Anxiety Scale for Children, and Achenbach's
Child Behavior Checklist. Separation anxiety disorder can be predicted by the
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corresponding subscale of the screening questionnaire - the Anxiety Disorder Interview
Schedule (ADIS). Simon and Boegels (2009) rightly concluded that this scale has proved the
usefulness of screening for anxiety disorders in primary school children (Simon & Bögels,
2009). A number of simple screening tools have been shown effective in identifying various
anxiety disorders in the pediatric population. The Screen for Child Anxiety Related
Emotional Disorders (SCARED), a 41-item self-report questionnaire administered to both
child and parent, has been shown effective in identifying a pediatric anxiety disorders in
both primary care and outpatient settings. The Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children
(MASC) is a 39-item instrument with both child and parent self-report components available
for purchase. The Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale (PARS) is a clinician-scored instrument that
has been used to evaluate the severity of anxiety disorders in children. Researchers
conducting a comprehensive review of the most commonly cited and psychometrically valid
anxiety scales used in children concluded that the PARS combined with either the SCARED
or the MASC, provided an appropriate assessment for pediatric anxiety disorders (Monga et
al., 2000). The Separation Anxiety Daily Diary (SADD) assesses the frequency of anxiety-
provoking and non-anxiety-provoking separations, along with associated parental anxiety,
thoughts, child behaviours, and corresponding parental reactions (Allen et al., 2010). The
Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale—Parent Version (RCADS-P) is a 47-item
parent-report questionnaire of youth anxiety and depression, with scales corresponding to
the DSM-IV categories of Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Generalized Anxiety
Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Major Depressive
Disorder (MDD). The RCADS-P demonstrated favourable psychometric properties,
including high internal consistency, convergent/divergent validity, as well as strong
discriminant validity - evidencing an ability to discriminate between anxiety and depressive
disorders, as well as between the targeted anxiety disorders (Ebesutani et al., 2010).
9. Comorbidity
Separation anxiety disorder is closely linked to other anxiety and mood disorders and can
also be associated with externalizing psychopathology in children and adolescents. Children
and adolescents with anxiety disorders are at risk of developing new anxiety disorders,
depression, and substance abuse. Longitudinal studies have suggested that childhood SAD
may be a risk factor for other anxiety disorders. It is a question whether this link is specific
to, for example, a panic disorder and agoraphobia or whether SAD represents a general
factor of vulnerability for a broad range of anxiety disorders (Manicavasagar et al., 1998;
Silove et al., 1993). 50 to 75% of children and adolescents with juvenile panic disorder suffer
from SAD at the same time (Biederman et al., 1997; Bradley & Hood, 1993; Masi et al., 2000).
Some studies confirm the association between separation anxiety in childhood and panic
disorder (PD) in adulthood (Capps et al., 1996; Pine et al., 1998). The results from other
studies did not confirm a specific link between these two kinds of disorders (Lipsitz et al.,
1994; Silove et al., 1996). Some researches consider that a history of SAD identifies a
particularly heritable, early-onset form of panic disorder (Battaglia et al., 1995). Fagiolini et
al. (1998) hypothesize that childhood SAD cannot transform into panic disorder or other
anxiety disorders, but it may simply persist in adulthood, as part of a more comprehensive
panic diathesis called panic spectrum. Results from Aschenbrand and colleagues (2003)
study argue against the hypothesis that childhood SAD is a specific risk factor for adult
panic disorder and agoraphobia. The subjects with a childhood diagnosis of SAD did not
Different Views of Anxiety Disorders
324
display a greater risk for developing panic disorder and agoraphobia in young adulthood
than those with other childhood anxiety diagnoses (Aschenbrand et al., 2003). Results of a 4-
year, prospective longitudinal Brückl and colleagues (2007) study of a representative cohort
of adolescents and young adults aged 14-24 years at baseline showed an increased risk of
developing subsequent not only panic disorder with agoraphobia, but also an increased risk
of developing subsequent specific phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder,
pain disorder, alcohol dependence and generalized anxiety disorder (Brückl et al., 2007;
Masi et al., 1999). Similar patterns of vulnerability to carbon dioxide inhalation have been
reported in adults with panic disorder (PD) and children with separation anxiety disorder
(SAD), suggesting a link between the adult and child conditions. They might be a subtype of
SAD at particularly high risk for adult PD (Roberson-Nay et al., 2010). Anxiety disorders in
youth often do not present as a single/focused disorder: such disorders in youth overlap in
symptoms and are highly comorbid among themselves (Kendall et al., 2010). Anxiety
disorders and depression are frequently comorbid in children and adolescents (Axelson &
Birmaher, 2001; O’Neil et al., 2010; Pine et al., 1998). Separation anxiety disorder has an
association with higher rates of subsequent depression in a limited number of studies (Horn
& Wuyek, 2010). Separation anxiety disorders are among the most common comorbid
conditions in youth with bipolar disorder (BP) (Sala et al., 2010). A history of separation
anxiety disorder is frequently reported by patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder
(Mroczkowski et al., 2011). Anxiety disorders in youth increase a risk for later substance use
disorders (O'Neil et al., 2011).
10. School phobia
School refusal could be defined as a difficulty attending school associated with emotional
distress, especially anxiety and depression. School refusal is considered a symptom rather
than a clinical diagnosis and can manifest itself as a sign of many psychiatric disorders, with
anxiety disorders predominant. Identified main predictors of school refusal behaviour were
in a connection with distinctive feature of community, school and family (Kearney &
Hugelshofer, 2000). The behaviour of those children, who stay home from school because of
fear or anxiety, has variously been called an anxious school refusal or a school phobia or a
variant of separation anxiety disorder (SAD) (King & Bernstein, 2001).
Separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobia,
and adjustment disorder with anxiety symptoms are the most common disorders co-
occurring with school refusal (King et al., 1995). Mostly severe separation anxiety can result
in school refusal. For separation anxiety disorder, the essential feature is excessive anxiety
consuming separation from the home or from those to whom the person is attached, an
issue that may first surface when a child begins formal schooling. While separation anxiety
disorder is associated with school refusal in younger children, other anxiety disorders,
especially phobias, are associated with school refusal in adolescents. School phobia has
traditionally referred to the youngsters who refuse school with parental knowledge and
because of separation anxiety or specific fears. Terms such as separation anxiety and school
phobia are often used interchangeably with school refusal. Johnson et al. (1941) coining the
term “school phobia”, defined it as an anxious fear of school caused by the child’s and
mother’s separation anxieties (Johnson et al., 1941; Kearney & Silverman,1996). Such
definitions include the youths who are completely absent from school, who initially attend
school but then leave during the school day, who go to school after having behavioural
Separation Anxiety in Children and Adolescents
325
problems such as morning tantrums or psychosomatic complaints, and who display marked
distress on school days and plead with their caregivers to allow them to remain home from
school. The rates of school absenteeism are much higher in some urban areas. The most
common age of onset is 10 to 13 years. Anxious school refuses can be divided into three
types: those with separation anxiety, social phobia, and those who are anxious and
depressed (King & Bernstein, 2001). The prevalence of school refusal has been reported to be
approximately 1% in school-age children and 5% in child psychiatry samples. The
prevalence of school refusal is similar among boys and girls. School refusal can occur at any
time throughout the child's academic life and at all socio-economic levels. The
vulnerabilities associated with pure anxious school refusal include living in a single-parent
home, attending a dangerous school, and having a biological or non-biological parent who
had been treated for a mental health problem (Egger et al., 2003). Among different kinds of
risk factors of school phobia are genetic, biological (obstetric, neonatal), temperament,
comorbidity and environmental risk factors such as developmental experience, life events,
history of childhood, parent-child relationship (Bernstein et al., 1999; Dabkowska, 1999,
2002; Kearney & Hugelshofer, 2000). The psychiatric disorders are more frequently seen in
adult relatives of children with school refusal, which supports a significant role of genetic
and environmental factors in the aetiology of school refusal. Approximately 52% of
adolescents with school refusal behaviour meet criteria for an anxiety, depressive, conduct-
personality, or other psychiatric disorder later in life (Kearney, 2006). Berg et al. (1993)
found that a half of the youths with attendance problems had no psychiatric disorder, a
third had a disruptive behaviour disorder, and a fifth had an anxiety or mood disorder.
School refusal is reported in about 75% of children with SAD, and SAD is reported to occur
in up to 80% of children with school refusal (Borchardt et al., 1994; King et al., 1995). Results
of studies support the association between anxious school refusal and somatic symptoms
(headache, gastrointestinal complaints) occurring mostly in the morning, disturbed sleep,
nightmares (Bernstein et al., 1997; Dabkowska, 2006; Egger et al., 2003).The youth with
anxiety disorder diagnoses (also separation anxiety disorder) demonstrates significantly
lower levels of school functioning than those without anxiety disorders (Mychailyszyn et al.,
2010). School refusal behaviour can lead to serious short-term problems, such as distress,
academic decline, alienation from peers, family conflict, intrafamilial violence, financial and
legal consequences. Long-term consequences may include fewer opportunities to attend
facilities of higher education, employment problems, social difficulties, and increased risk
for later psychiatric illness (Flakierska-Praquin et al., 1997). Long term follow-up studies of
children treated for school refusal due to SAD find that, despite their return to school, many
continue to present significant social and affective limitations (Berg & 1985; Flakierska-
Praquin et al., 1997). In relation to educational outcomes, about half of school refuses
underachieve academically (Flakierska-Praquin et al., 1997; Kearney & Albano, 2000).
(Copian et al., 2007; Nelson et al., 2005). Children and adolescents with school refusal are a
heterogeneous population and require individualized treatment planning. Variables such as
diagnosis and severity at the start of treatment should be taken into consideration when
planning treatment. The School Refusal Assessment Scale (revised edition; SRAS-R) is
designed to measure the relative strength of the four functional conditions and is given to
the child and to both parents. Often children and parents assess basic reasons for school
refusal in a different way (Kearney, 2002). Dabkowska study (2007) noticed substantial
Different Views of Anxiety Disorders
326
disagreement between children and parent in identifying the function of school refusal
behaviours. The major aim of the treatment is to help the child return to school in the
shortest time possible. The treatment should be carried out in cooperation with the child's
parents and the school personnel. A widely accepted approach to the treatment of school
refusal is one that is concerned with the application of a multi-faceted treatment.
Psychosocial and psychopharmacological approaches constitute the crucial parts of the
therapeutic process. Today, cognitive behaviour therapy is the most frequently employed
approach in the treatment of school refusal (Bahali & Tahiroğlu 2010).The anxious school
refusal can be effectively treated with other behavioural interventions, also
pharmacotherapy, where mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors could be useful
(King & Bernstein, 2001; Last et al., 1998). Finally, it is important to intervene at school to
improve the child’s comfort and safety.
11. Adult separation anxiety
Adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) has only been recognized as a specific mental
disorder in the late 90s, with the pioneering work of professor Vijaya Manicavasagar. Adult
separation anxiety disorder is likely to be much more common in adults than previously
recognized (Manicasavagar & Silove 1997). This anxiety in adulthood has been associated
with severe role impairment at work and in social relationships after controlling for
potential confounding effect of anxiety comorbidity. In Pini et al. study (2010), some subjects
have exhibited adult separation anxiety disorder without a history of childhood separation
anxiety and some have had adult separation anxiety disorder with a history of childhood
separation anxiety (Pini et al., 2010). Manicavasagar et al. (1998) indicated that adults might
experience wide-ranging separation anxiety symptoms, such as extreme anxiety and fear,
when separated from major attachment figures; avoidance of being alone; and fears that
harm will befall those close to them. Symptomatology of adult separation anxiety disorder
usually has a waxing and waning course, with exacerbation in the presence of threats to
intimate bonds, which particularly predisposes to severe anxiety symptoms, including panic
attacks (Manicavasagar et al., 1998). Separation anxiety disorder may be a neglected
diagnosis in adulthood. Only a single research has examined the relationship of attachment
styles to adult separation anxiety disorder. Manicavasagar and colleagues (2009) described
how the dimensional associations showed strong correlations with scales measuring anxious
attachment and separation anxiety in adults. In a 2006 study, Shear at al. found
approximately one-third of adults had a childhood case of separation anxiety disorder that
persisted into adulthood. However, a significant part of adults with ASAD recorded its first
onset of the disorder in adulthood (Shear et al., 2006). More women than men suffer from
ASAD. ASAD often occurs along with other psychiatric conditions, especially other anxiety
disorders or mood disorders (Manicavasagar et al., 2009). Abelli et al. (2010) concluded that
the platelet 18-kDa translocator protein (TSPO) expression may be a useful biological
marker of adult separation anxiety co-occurring with other anxiety and mood disorders,
including bipolar disorder. In Silove et al. study (2010) adult separation anxiety disorder
was associated with PTSD, but not with complicated grief or depression. Results of Silove
and colleagues study found that patients with adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD)
may have elevated early separation anxiety scores but this association is unique in females
only. Amongst anxiety patients, those with ASAD recorded more severe symptoms of
Separation Anxiety in Children and Adolescents
327
depression, anxiety and stress, higher neuroticism scores, and greater levels of disability
(Silove et al., 2010).
12. The therapeutic methods of treating separation anxiety disorder
Children are usually brought to the clinician when SAD results in school refusal or somatic
symptoms such as recurrent pain of different parts of body occur. Anxiety disorders can be
managed by using non-pharmacological and pharmacological options, or a combination of
them. Treatment of the separation anxiety disorder includes behavioural, cognitive, and
individual psychotherapies, as well as parent counselling and guiding teachers on how to
help the child. The most recent evidence for empirically supported treatments shows that
the cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRI)
are the most efficacious for the improvement of the children health with the separation
anxiety disorder (Fisher et al., 2006). Different classes of medications have been used in
pediatric anxiety disorders, including benzodiazepines, tricyclics and buspirone. Newer
antidepressants (SSRIs and beyond) have had fewer side effects, lower toxicity in overdose
and a broader range of indications (Masi et al., 2002). Cognitive behavioural therapies have
the best evidence-based support for the treatment of the separation anxiety disorder in
children and adolescents (Seligman & Ollendick, 2011). Research findings have supported
the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy in reducing anxiety symptoms and increasing
function in anxious children (Schneider et al., 2011). The outcomes of a randomized clinical
trial evaluating an individual cognitive-behavioural, family-based cognitive-behavioural,
and family-based education, support and attention treatment for anxious youth, also with
diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder showed good efficacy of the psychotherapy (Suveg
et al., 2009a). Hirshfeld-Becker et al. (2010) found that developmentally modified parent-
child CBT may show a promise in 4 to 7 year-old children. The cognitive-behavioural
therapy for the anxious youth, also with separation anxiety disorder could change in
emotion regulation. The treated youth exhibited a reduction in anxiety and increased
anxiety self-efficacy and emotional awareness at post-treatment (Suveg et al., 2009b).
Children's coping skills have been considered to be protective factors in childhood anxiety
disorders (Dadds et al., 1999). Learning to use active coping strategies, distraction strategies,
and problem-focused rather than avoidant-focused coping have been encouraged in the
anxious youths (Ayers et al., 1996). Results of the acute outcomes of the Child/Adolescent
Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS) trial showed that all active treatments of separation
anxiety disorder (cognitive-behaviour therapy or sertraline) were superior to pill placebo,
that combination treatment (cognitive-behaviour therapy and SSRI) was superior to the
monotherapies, and that the monotherapies were equivalent (Compton et al., 2010). The
severity of the anxiety in children was found to be reduced with both cognitive behavioural
therapy and sertraline (Walkup et al., 2008). Fluoxetine as others selective serotonin-
reuptake inhibitors, seemed useful and well tolerated for the acute treatment of the anxious
youths, among others in separation anxiety (Birmaher et al., 2003). Non-pharmacological
treatments are the first choice approach in separation anxiety disorder or school refusal. This
kind of treatment contains psychoeducational intervention (education of child and parents,
collaboration with school personnel, training to increase child’s autonomy and competence)
and psychotherapeutic approach (behavioural, cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic or
family therapy. Pharmacological management of separation anxiety disorder uses mainly
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors; previously used tricyclic antidepressants, possibly
Different Views of Anxiety Disorders
328
benzodiazepines or buspirone. The use of new drugs (mirtazapine, venlafaxine, nefazodone)
needs to be assessed.
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... Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by developmentally inappropriate, unrealistic, and excessive worry about imagined/real separation from attachment figure that interferes with normative functioning [1][2][3]. While diagnostic criteria with regard to age of onset vary across classificatory systems, adolescents with this disorder are noted to present with greater somatic complaints and school refusal than at younger ages [1][2][3][4]. ...
... Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by developmentally inappropriate, unrealistic, and excessive worry about imagined/real separation from attachment figure that interferes with normative functioning [1][2][3]. While diagnostic criteria with regard to age of onset vary across classificatory systems, adolescents with this disorder are noted to present with greater somatic complaints and school refusal than at younger ages [1][2][3][4]. Additionally, adolescents presenting with SAD have been found to be at greater risk for adult psychopathology [1]. ...
... While diagnostic criteria with regard to age of onset vary across classificatory systems, adolescents with this disorder are noted to present with greater somatic complaints and school refusal than at younger ages [1][2][3][4]. Additionally, adolescents presenting with SAD have been found to be at greater risk for adult psychopathology [1]. ...
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Psychotherapy is best guided by theoretically driven individualized understanding of a patient’s problems; essentially a psychopathology formulation. The manifestation of Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in adolescence is unique in its presentation and implications for adult mental health. This paper presents a case report of psychotherapy with an adolescent girl diagnosed with SAD. The therapeutic delivery and processes were guided by a psychopathology formulation based on the object relations school. This case report highlights the pertinence of psychopathology formulations in clinical practice; thus, demurring the dominance of diagnostically driven psychotherapeutic practice.
... While truancy reflects non-attendance owing to antisocial behaviours or a lack of interest, school refusal reflects school non-attendance owing to emotional distress (Fremont, 2003). It is not considered a clinical diagnosis; rather, it is a symptom (Dabkowska, Dabkowska, Araszkiewicz, & Wilkosc, 2011). In many countries, both Eastern and Western, school refusal is a social issue that is stressful for students, families, and school personnel (e.g. ...
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School refusal is a severe social issue in many countries. For helping students who experience stress, multiple social supports including school counsellors and teachers have been provided. However, these supports may not be useful for ‘non-help-seekers’ – those who do not seek help even when they have serious problems. Given the scarce research on non-help-seekers’ cognition, it is essential to identify internal factors that affect non-help-seekers’ adaptation in school. The current study examined the associations between non-help-seekers ’school adaptation and attachment, stress-coping style, and three psychological variables: trust, positivity, and prospects. Two cross-sectional studies (N = 960, 49.5% boys; N = 658, 51.8% boys, respectively) revealed the importance of attachment, a possibility of interventions to psychological factors, and the limited effect of stress coping strategies when a student’s problem is severe. Several interventions including retrieval-induced forgetting and modeling were suggested as support for non-help-seekers before their problems become dire.
... Adolescence involves a shift from the familiarity of primary school surroundings to a secondary school involving unacquainted teachers, buildings, and older students. Any problems in adjusting to these changes can result in the emergence of school refusal, anxiety, maladjustment and other mental health issues (Dabkowska et al., 2011;Greenberg et al., 2000). Adolescent mental health has, thus, been one of the growing concerns for psychologists and educators worldwide. ...
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Children with separation anxiety disorder (SAD) experience unrealistic fear of being separated from their significant caregivers (mostly parents). The occurrence of pathological separation anxiety is determined by many factors: parental attitudes, their mental and physical health, but also the way of perceiving the environment, traumatic events in the child’s family and life, as well as genetic and individual effects. Pandemic situation and related isolation caused change in the current lifestyle. Both psychological (i.e. the novelty of the social situation, negative information in the mass media, fear of their own live and their loved ones) and daily-life routine disturbances (i.e. the closure of schools and restrictions of contacts with peers, limited contacts with distant family members, remote work of parents) generate difficulties for children and can contribute anxiety among children with SAD. Paradoxically, despite the fact that children and adolescents are at home, the COVID-19 pandemic may intensify SAD, exacerbating factors underlying separation anxiety. It turns out that family social isolation can escalate conflicts. This, in turn, adversely affects relationships between family members and can reduce children’s sense of security. Due to pandemic problematic access to specialized health care, especially personal contact with a psychotherapist, children with SAD suffer from insufficient professional help.
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School refusal behaviour is a serious problem, compromising lives of many children and their families and leading to several immediate and long-term sequels. According to the functional model, school refusal behaviour is usually a result of one or more factors: 1. Avoidance of school-associated places which evoke anxiety or depressive mood; 2. Escape from unpleasant and/or evaluating social situations; 3. Desire to focus parental attention on self or separation anxiety; 4. Rewarding extrascholar experiences. These four causative factors of school refusal behaviour were evaluated using a revised version of the School Refusal Assessment Scale (SRAS-R), including distinct subscales for children and their parents. This questionnaire serves to assess four functional conditions for school refusal as seen by children and parents. The study revealed significant difference between children and parents in identifying causes underlying school refusal behaviour.
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Epidemiological data indicate that anxiety disorders are the most common childhood disorder. Phobic children perceive surroundings more negatively. They have lowered confidence in their ability to cope with danger. They also show cognitive impairments of ambiguous situations. Separation anxiety, social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, usually underlie school refusal. School absenteeism and refusal of going to school in these children was mainly associated with their fear of separation from parents and with somatic symptoms (headache, gastrointestinal complaints) occurring mostly in the morning. Risk factors of school phobia are: genetic, biological (obstetric, neonatal), environmental risk factors such as developmental experience, life events, history of childhood, parent - child relationship, temperament, comorbidity. School phobia belongs to a family of childhood anxiety condition that appear to be related to adult forms of anxiety disorders, particularly to panic disorder with agoraphobia. Popularizing information about symptoms of school phobia may reduce functional disorders during adulthood.
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Separation anxiety has long been of interest in psychiatry. The term refers to both a phenomenon of normal psychological development and to the symptoms of a common childhood psychiatric disorder, classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Edition (ICD 10), as separation anxiety disorder. Available epidemiological studies suggest a prevalence rate of this disorder of about 4%. Treatment studies using cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication are reported in the literature. There is also evidence that symptoms of separation anxiety may occur in adulthood, though this is far less widely known. We consider childhood and adult separation anxiety to be a component of panic spectrum, described in other papers of this issue. A small and somewhat confusing literature addresses the question of outcome of childhood separation anxiety disorder, with support for a weak association between childhood separation anxiety and adult panic disorder. We believe there is a suggestion of a stronger association of the childhood condition with persistence of a similar syndrome of adult separation anxiety. Symptoms of adult separation anxiety may be a manifestation of panic spectrum, as we suggest. Such symptoms may represent a separate, specific clinical entity, or symptomatic separation anxiety may occur as a manifestation of a range of Axis I disorders, and may respond to treatment of these disorders. In any case, we urge researchers and clinicians to begin to attend to the possibility that adult psychiatric patients may suffer from clinically significant symptoms of adult separation anxiety.
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This article reports on school functioning for 227 youth ages 7-14 (M = 10.3) wim principal diagnoses of separation anxiety disorder (n = 40), social phobia (n = 58), generalized anxiety disorder (n = 76), or no diagnoses (n = 53). School functioning data were gathered via parent and teacher report. Youth with no diagnoses demonstrated significantly higher levels of school functioning than those with separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, or generalized anxiety disorder. The specific anxiety-disordered groups were differentiated to some degree on parent and teacher report of school functioning. Analyses revealed that differences were often attributable to increasingly complex comorbidity. These results underscore the need for services for youth with anxiety given the range of challenges they face in the school environment.
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