Coronavirus fuelling OCD stigma

New Zealand Health Minister recommends OCD

With all the news and social media outlets flooded with messages about coronavirus it is understandably a worrying time for many. This is a serious issue, particularly for the most vulnerable in society, and action must be taken. One of the most obvious preventative measures recommended is increased handwashing and disinfection.

David Adam wrote an excellent piece recently on how coronavirus has impacted on people with contamination OCD here. Unlike David’s article however, there has been a lot of misinformation online incorrectly associating OCD and coronavirus.

The two main ways I have seen this are: (1) promoting “OCD” as a useful preventative measure, or (2) those who assume (often well meaning) that OCD sufferers will all be affected by this. Both are inaccurate.

For those with health anxiety (a very different disorder entirely) the impact will most likely be widespread. However, where OCD is concerned, Covid-19 will affect many but certainly not all, and possibly not even most.

Where OCD is concerned, Covid-19 will affect many with OCD, but certainly not all.

Within the OCD realm of shittery we have what are called “themes”. Themes are labels given to common areas of obsession such as; harm, relationships, contamination and scrupulousity to name a few. In reality though, OCD can literally grip on to anything: a particular number, a colour, a word, or even tomato sauce (yes this has happened to people).

Therefore, depending on a person’s OCD and how it presents, coronavirus may or may not affect them. This is important. I am no more or less concerned about coronavirus than the next person. In fact I would even say I’m calm about the situation. There is, of course, a possibility that a person’s OCD could latch on to coronavirus as their new “theme” but for many people with OCD they are locked into specific obsessions so deeply it would be difficult to shift. Everyone is different.

So when Doctor Clark prescribes OCD: is he recommending that people pray 100 times a day? Or perhaps research the transmission rate of HIV for 4 hours a day? How about one partner asking another partner 50 times a day whether they love them? Or maybe we need to avoid the number 4 to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

Tell you what doctor, why don’t we add a sprinkle of self isolating clinical depression into the mix for good measure. Or perhaps a dollop of anorexia to keep food supplies up. Both suggestions as equally ludicrous as suggesting OCD as helpful.

Even *if* a person had general contamination obsessions and their compulsions included excessive handwashing, this would almost certainly not be useful for actually combatting a disease.

Compulsions are by definition maladaptive and excessive, and therefore never useful in the context of OCD. Taken in isolation certain compulsions might somewhat reflect a reasonable measure another person might perform, but harm caused by compulsions (to the sufferer) will always outweigh any benefits. After all, basic handwashing is still required, but excessively doing so can cause serious problems. For people with OCD this can escalate quickly to the point where they frequently have bleeding hands and with some even using bleach instead of soap. In some cases severe OCD can keep people from living a basic life and functioning at all.

Compulsions are by definition maladaptive and excessive and therefore never useful in the context of OCD

Of course I understand he is using OCD as the infamous false adjective it has become, like many still do – to be clean and tidy. But this is ignorance of the highest order and inexcusable from a senior medical professional.

The bottom line: OCD is not useful in fighting coronavirus and not everybody with OCD will be affected by it.

2 thoughts on “Coronavirus fuelling OCD stigma”

  1. This just shows how misunderstood OCD is and how people do not actually understand this illness. In my opinion there is evidently not nearly enough information out there explaining what OCD really is. It’s the same with sleep disorders ie; Narcolepsy… it is mostly associated with people’s faces falling flat into their bowl of cereal as they have a “sleep attack” even highly trained doctors believe that Narcolepsy is only people falling asleep standing up, falling asleep in a meeting etc. Just not enough information out there on so many illnesses. Very frustrating!

    Liked by 1 person

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