In April 2020, Yale School of Medicine came out with a study by Markeshia Ricks, ‘Managing Anxiety and OCD During a Pandemic.’ The study was conducted by Christopher Pittenger, MD PhD which went into the anxiety-riddled OCD disorder. The rampaging effects of the coronavirus have exacerbated the external stress factors that tend to trigger OCD episodes. The financial, emotional, and physiological effects of potentially contracting the virus have far-reaching ramifications. This is particularly true of the mental health of patients with OCD.
According to Dr. Pittenger, the problem relates to the disruptive effect of the geopolitical situation. In his own words, ‘This is a disorienting time… But for people who are struggling with anxiety disorders, I think it’s much more so. The fear of the future feeds into the core of their own personal struggles.’
Dr. Phyllis Hart, EdD, a licensed mental health counselor, offered an interesting opinion on OCD amid a pandemic, ‘OCD usually has a theme around it. For many, it is a germ theme. With the coronavirus pandemic, it may be easier on people with OCD, by wearing masks, washing hands, getting therapy online, and requesting medication online. The correct OCD treatment protocol is exposure without response, but by avoiding exposure, effective treatment is not possible. It may indeed prove to be beneficial to people suffering from germ-based OCD who are feeling relatively ‘comfortable’ right now, being socially distanced, and not having to confront the very things that trigger their OCD.’
McLean, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate, tackled the same issue in a publication in October 2020. According to the coordinator of clinical assessment for the OCD Institute at McLeans, Nathaniel Van Kirk PhD, ‘There is a large perception that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are struggling more than usual as we deal with the coronavirus. In reality, it’s a pretty complex picture.’ Indeed, OCD remains in the spotlight at a time where social distancing, lockdowns, and a pandemic abound. For OCD patients, symptoms may be exacerbated, with a strong fear-based approach to OCD and the transmission of the virus. Handwashing guidelines have been presented to the general public by the CDC, and these may be taken to the extreme by people with OCD.
Ideally, the best response is a balanced and measured approach to dealing with OCD during the coronavirus pandemic, concomitant shutdowns, social distancing, and mask wearing regulations. Since OCD is an anxiety-based mental disorder, the greater the anxiety level, the worse the OCD. The focus should be on the health and well-being of society, and the measures that are being implemented to achieve that end. Society is being inculcated with rules and guidelines to promote regular handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing. Since these are already ingrained in people with OCD, the current predicament will likely lead to a greater acceptance and understanding of the afflictions suffered by people with OCD.
What Types of Treatment Regimens Are Available to People With OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is predicated on high levels of anxiety. There are many stress-related triggers which elevate the degree of OCD that a person is suffering at any time. OCD behaviors are thought-based and action-based. The most invasive OCD thoughts are those based on cleanliness and hygiene which are two issues that are front and center during the coronavirus pandemic. People living with OCD may have their minds put at ease when they see others taking hygiene and cleanliness more seriously thought there is nothing logical about OCD. It is not simply about staying clean – the thoughts are so invasive and pervasive that no amount of cleaning will cleanse the mind of the OCD thoughts.
Many obsessive thoughts then translate into actions such as hand washing and use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and avoidance of people and crowds.
Various treatment regimens are available for people with OCD, including FDA-approved medication, specifically serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclics. Other effective forms of treatment for OCD includes deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (Deep TMS), and psychotherapy. More novel invasive OCD treatments are also available such as gamma knife, a glint of lesions, standard craniotomy, and implanting radioactive seeds. These invasive OCD treatment regimens are currently in the evaluation phase and will remain as such until safety guidelines have been evaluated.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of OCD during a global health crisis has been heightened to a large degree. Fortunately, there is no shortage of professional therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists to assist in this regard. Treatment protocols are usually therapy and therapeutics, for calming the over-active mind.