Fighting fear

Even in times of social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, a lot of us are keeping our spirits up by singing, dancing, cooking, and making up hilarious Corona memes. However, there is a small, yet significant section of people that is not laughing. The spread of the pandemic has meant something very different to them.

“These are troubling times for people who live with contamination obsessions,” says Dr C J John, chief psychiatrist of Medical Trust Hospital. Since the Corona outbreak, he has seen a couple of people who were in a state of panic. The viral outbreak could trigger irrational fears in those who have mild to severe contamination obsessions and washing compulsions. “It may exacerbate the condition in a few patients,” says Dr John.

Those who are predisposed to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or have illness anxiety are at a higher risk of being affected by the fear caused by the spread of the virus. OCD is defined as a mental disorder in which a person has recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make him or her feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviour, such as hand washing, checking on things, or cleaning, can significantly interfere with the person’s daily activities and social interactions, according to the DSM 5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) of the American Psychiatric Association.

While awareness and information are vital, there is a literal “infodemic” (an information pandemic) that is adversely affecting people with anxiety disorders, says Dr John. “A lot of the information passed around on social media may be authentic, however, this information overload could prove distressing to patients who keep tracking news compulsively, worsening their condition.”

Mental health experts suggest that those with pre-existing emotional disorders such as health anxiety and depression, those being treated for OCD or anxiety, and those who are experiencing distress, seek medical help. If you have a family member who has OCD, help them by regulating the flow of information at home, and by avoiding real-time tracking of the news.

However, the situation, says Dr John, is also an opportunity to trace signs of obsessive disorders in a loved one. “Even to remove contamination by a deadly virus such as Corona, you need to wash your hands only for 20 seconds.” If you or someone close to you is doing this more than necessary, do check in with a psychologist.