Joey was a 12-year-old boy who was referred to mental health care for long-standing anxiety about losing his parents. He had begun to have anxieties as a young child and had great trouble starting kindergarten. He had been scared of being away from home for school. He was also briefly bullied in third grade, which made his anxieties worse.
Joey’s parents noted that he “always seemed to have a new worry.” His most constant fear revolved around his parents’ safety. He often was fine when both were at work or home, but when they were in transit or elsewhere, he was afraid that they would die in an accident. When the parents were late from work or when they tried to go out together, Joey became frantic, constantly calling and texting them. Joey was mostly concerned about his mother’s safety, and she had gradually reduced her solo activities to a minimum. She said, it felt like “he would like to follow me into the toilet.” Joey was less demanding toward his father, who said, “When we comfort him all the time or stay at home, he’ll never become independent.” He believed his wife had been too soft and over-protetictive.
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Joey’s grades were good. His teachers agreed that he was quiet but had a number of friends and worked well with other children. They noted that he seemed sensitive to any hint that he was being picked on.
Joey and his family underwent several months of psychotherapy when Joey was 10 years old. The father said therapy helped his wife become less overprotective, and Joey’s anxiety seemed to improve. Joey’s mother had a history of panic disorder, agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder. His grandmother was described as being as anxious as Joey’s mother.
Joey was diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. He has at least four of the eight symptoms: long-standing, extreme fears of anticipated separations, harm to his parents, events that could lead to separations, and being left alone. His mother has panic disorder, agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder, and both parents agree that her own worries have affected her parenting style. Joey’s fears appear to be rewarded: the parents stay home, rarely leave Joey alone and respond quickly to all his calls and text messages.
About This Story
This patient story is excerpted from Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5.
Understanding Mental Disorders is a consumer guide designed to promote education and understanding among anyone who has been touched by mental illness.