From the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, experts have warned of a mounting mental health crisis as people contend with a pandemic that has upended their lives.
The Covid-19 crisis has presented profound challenges for those whose obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms align with current concerns. For example, guidance on how good hygiene can stop the spread of the virus may cause some to go to extremes.
Doctors said that those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other severe anxieties face uniquely challenging mental health battles, including trying to distinguish concerns brought on by their conditions from general fears shared by the public about Covid-19.
People with OCD feel compelled to perform certain behaviours, such as compulsive cleaning repeatedly, and they may fixate on routines. OCD can also cause non-stop, intrusive thoughts.
Smriti, 24, was always afraid of holding the bar of metro or bus and carried a sanitiser in case she used a public washroom even when there was no Covid around. However, in the past few months, though she has not left the house much, Smriti has started washing her hands more frequently, and without any extra nudge from anybody.
Doctors said Smriti is not one-of-her-kind — they are increasingly getting patients with dry skin caused by excessive hand wash, or washing laundry, or cleaning surfaces such as kitchen slabs and doorknobs.
Dr. Shanu Shrivastav, senior psychologist, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, (ISIC), New Delhi, said that his hospital is receiving at least two patients daily who have suffered dermatological issues triggered by their OCD.
“Since April, we have received 1-2 patients daily who have visited local physicians for skin related problems and were referred to as psychological counselling. About 60 per cent of these patients were going out for work before the pandemic, which made them think that they have already been exposed to the virus and have carried it home.
“Those who have a child or elderly at home were more scared than working couples with no children or parents living with them. We offer to counsel and ask them to be reasonable in their fear as well as precautions – they must watch out for those moments when they start overdoing any hygiene practice,” he added.
Dr Akshay Budhraja, Senior Pulmonologist, Aakash Healthcare, New Delhi, said that people aged 35 and above are more susceptible to obsessive disorders.
“People below the age of 35 are more prone than others to develop compulsive habits as they rigorously follow the hygiene guidelines to keep Covid at bay. Some of the patients are stressed as they want to stop behaving obsessively but cannot do so, which is why they decided to seek professional help.”
He also said that the influx of patients with OCD of sanitisation increased a month after the lockdown.
“We started getting such patients around one month after the lockdown and have received 50 per cent patients so far routed to us by the Psychiatrist department. The other common traits shown by these people are hoarding of soaps and sanitizers and excessive use of masks and other protective gears,” Dr Budhraja added.
With the wave of Covid in India, came a lot of lifestyle changes to be adopted by the people. The experts have seen the change in response of people to their daily lives. The positive aspect which we have seen was hygiene development, but the other element was overdoing the same.
The causes which have triggered the OCD among people are changed lifestyle, fear among them of Covid-19, contamination anxiety, the distress among people to take care of their families in these crises leading to obsessive cleaning and sanitizing.
However, doctors said that OCD can be treated through psychotherapy or medications, or combining both.
“Anti-depressants may help lessen symptoms of OCD while talk therapy with a mental health professional can help bring changes in thought and behaviour patterns. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and exposure and response therapy are types of talk therapy found effective for many people. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) enables a person with OCD to deal with the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts without engaging in the compulsive behaviour,” Dr Budhraja added.
The doctors also alarmed people to identify habits concerned with becoming obsessive behaviour — washing hands for the end number of times, If your mind is setting a particular count to wash your hands like 20 times, 50 times or any other number.