COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Exacerbation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Symptoms Among Youth

Children and young adults with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) were experiencing an increase in their OCD symptoms, as well as anxiety and depression symptoms during the current global pandemic. These results were published in BMC Psychiatry.

Children and young adults (N=102) aged 7-21 years who were diagnosed at an OCD specialized clinic in Denmark or were members of the Danish OCD Association were recruited for this study between April and May 2020. Participants were asked to respond to a questionnaire which assessed demographics, quality of life (QoL), which was based on the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS).

The participants diagnosed by OCD specialists (n=65) were aged mean 14.9 (standard deviation, 2.66) years and 36.9% were boys and the participants from the OCD Association (n=37) were aged mean 14.14 (SD, 2.79) years and 33.3% were boys.

The baseline demographics of the 2 cohorts differed for OCD cleaning behaviors (80% vs 54.1%), OCD aggressive/sexual behaviors (87.7% vs 48.6%), the proportion using serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication (44.6% vs 32.4%), and diagnoses of anxiety (27.7% vs 5.4%), psychosis (4.6% vs 0%), tic disorder (16.9% vs 2.7%), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (21.5% vs 13.5%), and planning difficulties (13.9% vs 0%), among the clinical and association groups, respectively.

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Among those recruited from the specialized clinics, a positive correlation was observed between OCD severity scores and aggressive sexual symptoms (analysis coefficient, 2.62; 95% CI, 0.43-4.82; P =.02) and negatively correlated with family history of psychosis (analysis coefficient, -5.89; 95% CI, -11.82 to -0.04; P =.05).

Worsening OCD symptoms during the pandemic were correlated with a first degree family member with tic disorder (analysis coefficient, -3.20; P =.001), first degree family member with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (analysis coefficient, 2.45; P =.005), age (analysis coefficient, -0.29; P =.007), and age of OCD onset (analysis coefficient, -0.22; P =.009).

Among participants from the association, the correlation between OCD severity and aggressive sexual symptoms was replicated (analysis coefficient, 3.10; 95% CI, 0.56-5.65; P =.018).

The correlates between worsening OCD symptoms and age, age at onset, and first-degree familial diagnoses were not observed among the respondents recruited through the OCD Association.

This study was limited by the low response rate, especially among those recruited through the association and the fact that the clinical records were not available for those study participants.

These data indicated that the global pandemic was aggravating symptoms of OCD among children and young adults. These individuals reported experiencing an increase of anxiety and depression symptoms in addition to their OCD symptoms.


Nissen JB, Højgaard DRMA, Thomsen PH. The immediate effect of COVID-19 pandemic on children and adolescents with obsessive compulsive disorder. BMC Psychiatry. 2020;20(1):511. doi:10. 1186/s12888-020-02905-5