“I am trying my hardest not to let it consume me”: The impact of Covid-19 on people with OCD

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We’re hearing urgent messages every day about hand-washing to avoid the spread of Covid-19. What does that mean for those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, for whom innocent routines can become overwhelming compulsions?

OCD is estimated to affect around 750,000 people in the UK, according to charity OCD UK.

People with OCD can experience intrusive and distressing thoughts, resulting in them carrying out routine behaviours to prevent bad things from happening, such as mental counting, checking of body parts, or blinking.

It can become debilitating and life-altering for many people affected.

Health professionals are growing concerned by what the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines, including to frequently wash your hands for 20 seconds, could mean for people with contamination-based OCD.

Professor of Occupational Health Psychology, Craig Jackson of Birmingham City University, has been an occupational psychologist since 2001, having previously worked for the NHS in the mental health sector.

He warned, “The situation could make things worse, possibly intolerable, for those already living with anxiety-based, obsessive-type conditions.”

Professor Craig Jackson is concerned about what COVID-19 can mean for people with OCD. Credit Professor Craig Jackson

An example cited on OCD UK’s website revealed that, for some: “20 seconds will become 20 minutes, which will become two hours or more.”

Professor Jackson explained how ‘harmless’ memes and social media posts around handwashing can have a huge impact on those with the condition.

“Light-hearted posts which encourage correct washing to be accompanied by music could result in a habit-forming psychological ritual, or a superstitious token for good luck,” he explained.

He added, “Such frequent washing may also cause acute skin conditions such as dermatitis.”

While the severity and triggers of OCD vary from person to person, the pandemic is expected to impact many people affected in some way, including across the Midlands.

In Loughborough, Midlands Voice spoke to 44-year-old Claire Jagger, an Organisational Development Partner at Loughborough University.

Claire says her OCD stems from anxiety and loss of control. Credit Claire Jagger

Claire has lived with OCD for 25 years – she developed it while studying at university, where she would use a bar of soap a day washing her hands.

Over time, she has had therapy and had developed strategies to cope.

However, with the outbreak of Covid-19, she has found her previously-irrational thoughts becoming harder to dismiss.

“I have spent the past two decades trying not to wash my hands after touching door handles or people,” she recalled. “Now, I am being told that I actually should do these things, and more.”

“If I don’t do these things, people actually will die.”

Claire Jagger

She explained how this threatens her recovery progress: “It’s undermining all the hard work and therapy I have had.”

Unfortunately, the struggle Claire is facing throughout the Covid-19 outbreak is not uncommon.

Moving to Castle Vale in Birmingham, 26-year-old Jordon Carter is also battling OCD. Working as an Inventory Clerk at DHL, where he manages stock and logistics, Jordon realised he had OCD seven years ago.

Jordon has also seen his OCD worsen since the pandemic hit the UK. Credit Jordon Carter

Unlike Claire, Jordon told Midlands Voice that initially he didn’t feel triggered by the outbreak, but that changed when mass panic-buying of hand-sanitiser meant he went without something he ordinarily relied on.

“The anxiety and OCD really kicked in then – I had to live without any sand-sanitiser for weeks,” he recalled. “I have some now, and I’ve been sanitising my hands whenever I touch anything.”

Jordon explained how he has been keeping in touch with friends when he experiences invasive, irrational thoughts, to help him rationalise them.

“I am trying my hardest not to let it consume me.”

Jordon Carter

Information and advice around OCD can be found on the NHS website or from charities such as OCD UK and Mind.

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