COVID-19 triggers OCD in children and young people

November 09, 2020

Many children and young people with obsessive thoughts and compulsions experience that their OCD, anxiety and depressive symptoms worsen during a crisis such as COVID-19. This is shown by a new research result from Aarhus University and the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Central Denmark Region. The findings have been published in BMC Psychiatry.

Trauma and stress can trigger or worsen OCD. Researchers already know this. They have also shown us that COVID-19 may be associated with adults developing psychiatric disorders. But we do not know much about what the corona crisis means for children and young people.

A team of researchers from Aarhus University and the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Central Denmark Region, therefore decided to examine how children and young people with OCD experience the crisis. Professor, Department Chair Per Hove Thomsen led the research project.

Condition worsened

During the spring of 2020, the researchers sent a questionnaire to two groups of children and young people between the ages of seven and 21. One group had been diagnosed with OCD in a specialised OCD section at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry - and all had been in contact with a therapist at the hospital. The other group was identified through the Danish OCD Association. The majority of these children and young people had been diagnosed years ago. A total of 102 children responded to the questionnaire.

"Their experience was that their OCD, anxiety and depressive symptoms worsened during a crisis like COVID-19. This worsening was most pronounced for the group identified through the OCD Association," says Per Hove Thomsen.

Almost half of the children and young people who belonged to the first group reported that their symptoms had become worse, while a third of them replied that their anxiety had worsened and a third that their depressive symptoms had worsened. And of these, almost a fifth experienced that both symptoms had got worse. In the other group, 73 per cent reported that their condition had worsened, just over half that their anxiety had worsened, and 43 per cent answered that the depressive symptoms had increased.

Disinfect and wash hands

Judith Nissen, who is a consultant, was also one of the driving forces behind the study. She emphasises that it is no coincidence that the researchers have chosen to study OCD.

"The disorder is particularly interesting to study in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, because OCD is a disorder with many different clinical expressions, including not least health anxiety, fear of bacteria and dirt, and excessive hand washing/use of disinfection. It's therefore important to examine how such a significant crisis can affect the expression, frequency and progression of the disorder," she explains.

The children and young people who in the questionnaire had described thoughts and anxiety over how something serious could happen, e.g. that they themselves could become ill or lose family members, experienced the most significant worsening of their OCD symptoms. In particular, children who had begun suffering from OCD at an early age experienced the most pronounced worsening.

"For children who are already anxious about loss, the daily descriptions in the media of illness and death and recommendations about isolation and focus on infection can exacerbate these anxious thoughts, perhaps also especially for the youngest children, who may have greater difficulty understanding the significance of the infection, but who are also very dependent on parents and grandparents and thus are most vulnerable to loss," says Judith Nissen.

On the other hand, there is no correlation with anxiety about infection and impulsive hand washing. The study thus indicates that children and young people with OCD may be vulnerable in relation to a crisis such as COVID-19, where anxiety about something serious happening - including the loss of close relatives - characterises a particularly vulnerable group.

"This may be related to both the direct threat of the infection and to the consequences of having to maintain social distancing, social isolation and the significant level of focus on hygiene. The crisis is not over yet, and it's therefore very important that we continue to focus on vulnerable children and young people in the future," says Judith Nissen.
-end-
Background for the results

The study is a survey.

Partners: Judith Becker Nissen, David Højgaard, Per Hove Thomsen

Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Central Denmark Region

The scientific article "The Immediate Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on Children and Adolescents with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" is published in BMC Psychiatry

Contact

Per Hove Thomsen
Department of Clinical Medicine
Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
per.hove.thomsen@clin.au.dk
Direct tel.: (+45) 2117 2976

Judith Nissen
Department of Clinical Medicine
Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
au77762@clin.au.dk

Aarhus University

Related Depressive Symptoms Articles from Brightsurf:

Severity of depressive symptoms among at-risk individuals during COVID-19
The levels of severity of depressive symptoms among at-risk individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK were examined in this study.

Frequent social media use influences depressive symptoms over time among LGBTQ youth
Frequent social media use can impact depressive symptoms over time for LGBTQ youth, according to research from a Washington State University communication professor.

The Lancet Psychiatry: Single dose of psychoactive component in cannabis could induce psychotic, depressive, and anxiety symptoms in healthy people
A single dose of the main psychoactive component in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can induce a range of psychiatric symptoms, according to results of a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 studies including 331 people with no history of psychotic or other major psychiatric disorders, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

Study links depressive symptoms during pregnancy with lowered immunity in infants
A woman's mental health during pregnancy has a direct influence on the development of her child's immune system, according to a new study from pediatric researchers at the University of Alberta.

Digital intervention reduces depressive symptoms in people living with HIV
New study by Dr. Alicia Hong, Professor at George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services and her colleagues in China tests WeChat social media app intervention with 300 people living with HIV.

Researchers identify link between decreased depressive symptoms, yoga and the neurotransmitter GABA
The benefits of yoga have been widely documented by scientific research, but previously it was not clear as to how yoga exerts its physiologic effect.

Black teens face racial discrimination multiple times daily, suffer depressive symptoms
Black teenagers experience daily racial discrimination, most frequently online, which can lead to negative mental health effects, according to a Rutgers researcher.

Anti-inflammatory agents can effectively and safely curb major depressive symptoms
Anti-inflammatory agents, such as aspirin/paracetamol, statins, and antibiotics, can safely and effectively curb the symptoms of major depression, finds a pooled analysis of the available evidence, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Teens taking oral contraceptives may be at increased risk for depressive symptoms
In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, investigators report that there was no association between oral contraceptive use and depressive symptom severity in the entire population they studied (ages 16 through 25).

How were oral contraceptives, concurrent depressive symptoms associated among adolescents, young women?
This observational study examined associations between depressive symptoms and oral contraceptive use in adolescents and young women and how those associations might differ by age.

Read More: Depressive Symptoms News and Depressive Symptoms Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.