The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the occurrence of mental health problems, such as compulsive disorders. Public health measures to prevent infection, such as frequent hand washing and disinfecting, can greatly affect people who already have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The adverse mental health effects of COVID-19 are, in general, more acute for people with OCD. For example, research shows that people with contamination-related OCD and washing compulsions experienced worsened symptoms.
As a mental health condition, OCD is not widely understood. It is a complex condition and every individual displays a unique set of symptoms with even more complexities. Even in the best of times, it requires a lot of effort for people with OCD to manage their condition. Society-wide anxiety around a pandemic can make life much harder for people with this disorder.
Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common disorder that affects children, adolescents, and adults of all age groups. People with OCD have intrusive thought patterns or obsessive ideas and desires that cause them to act in a certain—often eccentric—way. These individuals believe their obsessions and compulsions are ways to ward off danger. Doing certain things (like cleaning rituals or repeating something a set number of times) may help alleviate the anxiety when facing danger, real or imagined. The problem is, these actions are not real solutions to most situations. The lack of control may throw them into a cycle of more anxiety and compulsion.
People with OCD tend to develop co-occurring anxiety disorders or unipolar mood disorders. Obsessions generally fall into five categories:
- Compulsions to prevent harm
- Obsessions with symmetry by ordering and counting items
- Obsessions about cleanliness
- Repugnant avoidance of sex, violence, and other social interactions
- Hoarding and collecting compulsively
This disorder is usually caused by genetics, changes in brain or body chemistry, childhood trauma, or habits formed over a long time. Usually, OCD conditions do not come on all of a sudden; mere anxiety over COVID-19 does not make people develop OCD. People who have such conditions feel something bad could happen to themselves or loved ones if they don’t perform their personalized rituals or compulsions. Of course, untreated OCD can certainly worsen in an anxious time such as a pandemic.
Challenges During the Pandemic
A public health crisis like COVID-19 which requires people to wash hands, disinfect surfaces, and mask up can trigger compulsions for people living with OCD. With their anxiety over how many times they washed their hands, whether they stood too close to someone, whether a surface is clean enough, or how many times they sanitized their home justified, even encouraged, obsessions and compulsions can worsen. Other behaviors, such as checking the internet for the latest news about the virus, can also become compulsive.
Social distancing, isolation, and remote or hybrid work have made it more difficult for working adults who struggle with OCD. They worry about the potential for contamination in the workplace, which increases perceived job difficulties.
Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Evaluation and diagnosis for OCD is the first step toward treatment. Health professionals will discuss one’s thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns to determine if one has the disorder and what kind of compulsive category they fall into. They will also use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to arrive at a diagnosis. Challenges in the diagnostic phase include differentiating OCD symptoms from those of other disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or other mental health illnesses.
Like many mental health conditions, OCD can be treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Because people with this disorder tend to have co-occurring mental disorders, they need access to personalized and well-rounded treatment plans.
Common medications for OCD include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) in higher daily doses than treating depression. It may take up to three months for SRIs to start working. Some people benefit from an antipsychotic medication which helps them better cope with OCD symptoms. When treating adults with OCD, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be used as a supplementary treatment. This disorder may also be treated by using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), habit reversing training, and exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.
Comprehensive Treatment Programs for OCD
Some treatment centers provide comprehensive treatment programs with ERP plans that cater to the severity of patients’ OCD symptoms. These intensive residential treatment programs typically last a few weeks. ERP is provided by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist, therapist, social worker, or counselor. ERP can also be delivered via teletherapy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the occurrence of mental health problems, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The adverse mental health effects of COVID-19 are generally more acute for people with OCD. If you or a loved one is experiencing new or worsened symptoms of OCD, it may be time to seek treatment. There are proven methods to alleviate the symptoms of OCD. Though Laguna Shores Recovery does not treat OCD as a primary diagnosis, our team of licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists can walk alongside people who have substance use disorder with OCD as a secondary diagnosis. We understand the challenges of this mental health disorder and are capable of treating it. We can help you design custom treatment plans for your needs. Our full medical residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and 12-step programs. We believe that life starts after recovery. Call us at (866) 906-3203.
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