Why Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders are on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Team Felicity
Fri May 14 2021

Why Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders are on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Shreya Durve, MBBS Student


With the world swirling through a roller coaster, and no end in sight, the virus isn’t the only issue experts are worried about.

With a lack of resources and staff, and the world shifted to the constrict of our four walls, we are soon going to be facing the post-pandemic mental health crisis. 

Amongst all the sufferers of various mental health disorders, one of the hardest-hit communities, are those with a history of Obsessive-compulsive disorders.

What is an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? 

As the name suggests, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder or OCD consists of Obsessions and Compulsions in varying proportions. 

Obsessions: Repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations eg: Undue awareness of normal sensations or the constant fear of hurt or pain to yourself or others.  

Compulsions: Urge to do something over and over again eg: Counting items like the number of steps you take or the need to repeatedly engage in cleaning activities or disinfection.

Criteria for diagnosis 

Not all obsessions and compulsions manifest as OCD and it is important to differentiate between the same. 

  1. Take up at least an hour of the day 
  2. Are beyond the control of the Individual  
  3. Aren’t enjoyable 
  4. Interfere with your day-to-day activities, work, and social life. 

The Rising Wave of COVID

Besides new cases of OCD emerging due to the emphasis on hygiene and fear of death due to the ongoing pandemic, persons who have been previously cured of the disorder are also showing increased rates of relapses. 

Some vulnerable types of OCDs are more prone to the effects of the COVID-19 hygiene and isolation protocols. They are as follows:

  1. The "Washers": The persons whose previous compulsions and obsessions involved cleaning or disinfection activities such as constant hand washing, cleaning surfaces repeatedly, fear of touching doorknobs, are one the worst affected groups. This happens not only because of the increasingly stricter hygiene protocols but also because their actions and thoughts are masked due to the normalization of the same.
  2. The "Perfectionists": The persons who have a need to be perfect in many aspects of their life are also one of the affected groups due to the need to be “proper” and “effective” in stopping the spread.
  3. Those who struggle with thoughts of harming others: These kinds of persons will have increased fears of infecting others and harming them, contributing to the intrusive thought process.

What fuels the problem of OCD further? 

The primary idea that the current situation calls for stricter action to curb the health crisis, doesn’t help matters. People don’t mind the excess protocols being followed and hence don’t point out obsessions and compulsions as problematic. People feel that these times call for extreme measures, thereby fuelling the issues faced by the OCD community on a daily basis.

How to improve the situation?

  1. Talk to your therapist/counsellor 
  2. Online support groups 
  3. Making a protocol to follow limiting your need to engage in cleaning or disinfection activities. Try and stick to this protocol and do not add to it - if you feel the need to engage in further activities, talk to your therapist or ask someone for guidance.

Do You Have An Undiagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

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