The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in most of the world becoming more paranoid about contamination and handwashing. For those who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this is no new problem. However, relapse for individuals who had their symptoms under control is now being seen, as is a significant exacerbation of OCD symptoms for individuals who have a history of contamination related obsessions and compulsions.
New cases of OCD are also being identified in large numbers. To add to the seriousness of the issue, the CDC has reported several recent cases of unintentional poisoning deaths related to inappropriate or excessive use of cleaning products. Given that there is an infectious pandemic going around, the line between rational adaptive behaviors and irrational behaviors becomes unclear. One such maladaptive behavior encompasses hoarding. The fear of contamination can lead to the behavior of hoarding cleaning products, medications, and masks which contributes to the shortage of supplies. OCD fears of contamination and infection can cause individuals to self-isolate in their homes and discontinue medications or therapy as a result, further worsening OCD symptoms. Individuals can also become susceptible to further risk of infection by over-washing and over-sanitizing to the extent of causing skin to break.
One thing is clear– There should be more recognition of the psychosocial implications that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing. To conclude, one article wrote, “The pandemic will eventually die down, but the increased frequency and intensity of this disturbing mental disorder will be an unfortunate aftermath for many months to come.”
Banerjee, D. D. (2020). The other side of COVID-19: Impact on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and hoarding. Psychiatry Research, 288, 112966. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.112966
French, I., & Lyne, J. (2020). Acute exacerbation of OCD symptoms precipitated by media reports of COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 1-4. doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.61
Monica Babaian, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern