Objective: The age-at-onset criterion for separation anxiety disorder was removed in DSM-5, making it timely to examine the epidemiology of separation anxiety disorder as a disorder with onsets spanning the life course, using cross-country data.
Method: The sample included 38,993 adults in 18 countries in the World Health Organization (WHO) World Mental Health Surveys. The WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess a range of DSM-IV disorders that included an expanded definition of separation anxiety disorder allowing onsets in adulthood. Analyses focused on prevalence, age at onset, comorbidity, predictors of onset and persistence, and separation anxiety-related role impairment.
Results: Lifetime separation anxiety disorder prevalence averaged 4.8% across countries (interquartile range [25th-75th percentiles]=1.4%-6.4%), with 43.1% of lifetime onsets occurring after age 18. Significant time-lagged associations were found between earlier separation anxiety disorder and subsequent onset of internalizing and externalizing DSM-IV disorders and conversely between these disorders and subsequent onset of separation anxiety disorder. Other consistently significant predictors of lifetime separation anxiety disorder included female gender, retrospectively reported childhood adversities, and lifetime traumatic events. These predictors were largely comparable for separation anxiety disorder onsets in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and across country income groups. Twelve-month separation anxiety disorder prevalence was considerably lower than lifetime prevalence (1.0% of the total sample: interquartile range=0.2%-1.2%). Severe separation anxiety-related 12-month role impairment was significantly more common in the presence (42.4%) than absence (18.3%) of 12-month comorbidity.
Conclusions: Separation anxiety disorder is a common and highly comorbid disorder that can have onset across the lifespan. Childhood adversity and lifetime trauma are important antecedents, and adverse effects on role function make it a significant target for treatment.
- PANIC DISORDER
- WMH SURVEYS