OCD: Dealing with compulsions during the coronavirus pandemic

About one in 50 people suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, repeatedly washing their hands or worrying that they’ve touched something or someone they shouldn’t have. It’s behavior that may be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, clinical trials are looking at new treatments and therapies to bring these deep-seated compulsions under control.

Obsessively checking things, hoarding items, extreme fear of germs … symptoms of OCD. OCD sufferers want to stop, but find it difficult, if not impossible to do so.

“For many folks, that level of distress is so intense that it motivates them to engage in these onerous behaviors, whether it be more ritualistic or avoidance to prevent that feared outcome from taking place. The problem with any sort of ritual, is that it’s temporary. It just doesn’t tend to stick for a while,” explained Eric Storch, PhD of the Baylor College of Medicine

OCD therapies currently under study or clinical trials include deep brain stimulation to implant electrodes, anti-depressants known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and glutamate in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that sends signals to other cells.

“The best treatment for anxiety disorders are therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or desensitization therapy,” added psychiatrist Harry A. Croft, MD.

And, although COVID-19 has impacted some individuals with OCD, mental health experts say it’s useful for others to understand what it’s like to live under that cloak of anxiety … not just during a pandemic, but all of the time.

The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that healthcare providers continue to serve patients with OCD during the pandemic by implementing telehealth appointments and services where possible. More COVID-19 resources are available on the website for the International OCD foundation here.