Cardiff study on impact of pandemic on OCD sufferers

Psychiatry lecturer

A Cardiff University Psychiatry lecturer is heading up  a project to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had om people with obsessive-compulsive traits or a history of OCD.

And it's a particularly personal endeavor for Dr Athanasios Hassoulas, director of the MSc in Psychiatry, because he has OCD and spent his early career researching the condition.

He believes the current global health crisis could have a huge impact on those with the condition and the care and support they are receiving.

OCD - obsessive-compulsive disorder - is an umbrella term that describes several different types of disorder in which a person has certain recurring thoughts (compulsions) and / or has certain recurring thoughts (obsessions).

 About 1-3% of the UK population has OCD.

"This could be a very challenging period for many people who have OCD or obsessive-compulsive traits," said Dr Hassoulas, from the School of Medicine.

“OCD can be very debilitating and distressing disorder even during normal times but during a pandemic level of anxiety and anxiety may feel overwhelming.

“During a pandemic thoughts are likely to be disturbed and coupled with daily messaging about risks, which could become out of control.

“We can know about the psychological impacts of coronavirus - it is also important for the psychological impacts too, especially for more vulnerable groups.”

Dr. Hassoulas was diagnosed with OCD as a teenager when his parents sensed something was not quite right.

"I was about 15 years old and I remember having these very intrusive thoughts," he said.

“As opposed to acting out a physical compulsion, I spent a lot of time trying to neutralize one thought with another thought. I had to focus very much on these positive thoughts and only then would some relief come.

“I was very lucky because I got the help I needed. I worry that others are not so fortunate. I mainly felt I wanted to research OCD to understand what drives many people to feel this way.”

Treatment and support for those with OCD depends on the severity and can vary from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can be used in more severe cases.

Dr Hassoulas is concerned that people may not have the support they need and that they may still be diagnosed because the process involves a GP referral to a psychiatric team.

“CBT can be done remotely but it can be harder to engage people when they need help and support more than ever. And given the disruption to GP and psychiatric services there will no doubt be a knock-on effect .

“At the moment we don't know what the pandemic is like with OCD, or if they are getting the treatment or support they should be.

"I hope this research will help us better understand how people are coping - and help us to provide better tailored support that can be delivered remotely."

Dr. Hassoulas also hopes that by talking about his OCD the public can get a better understanding of the condition.

"The World Health Organization describes OCD as one of the most debilitating psychiatric conditions in terms of the impact on people's lives and their finances and relationships," he said.

“The urge to perform certain rituals to provide relief can be very overwhelming - it can be very distressing condition.”

Participants in the research are being asked to fill in an online survey about how the pandemic has affected their daily lives - the actions they are taking and the level of anxiety they feel and any treatment or support that has been affected.


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