The announcement of a new, 20-second handwashing protocol to help stem the spread of coronavirus has the potential to severely exacerbate the symptoms of those suffering with OCD and anxiety disorders.
The growing threat posed by the Covid-19 coronavirus has lead a number of health organisations, including the NHS and WHO, to announce new handwashing and hygiene precautions, in an effort to mitigate the risk of an infected person spreading the virus. However, the widespread media coverage stressing the handwashing protocols and potency of the virus has the potential to devastating the mental wellbeing of those suffering from a pre-existing OCD or anxiety disorder, but could also lead people to develop new conditions.
The NHS estimates that between 1-2% of people in the UK suffer with severe OCD, but the rates of people who suffer intermittently with bouts of OCD or severe anxiety in any given year can be as many as 20%, or 1 in 5 people.
OCD is typically associated with cleanliness; something which would typically be seen as positive in the midst of a potential outbreak of an infectious disease; but many forms of OCD involve extreme hypochondria or intrusive thoughts about harm coming to oneself or loved ones, should the sufferer not take every precaution possible. The stress of an outbreak can seriously exacerbate those fears, leading to an increase in compulsive behaviour, extreme self-isolation, or even panic attacks, uncontrollable anxiety or suicidal thoughts.
Gerard Barnes, CEO of mental health treatment specialists, Smart TMS, gives his insight on the destructive capability of the coronavirus and the handwashing advice on mental wellbeing, and discusses the potential for a long-term increase in mental health issues as a result:
“It is certainly important to take the necessary precautions to protect one’s physical health given the circumstances surrounding the spread of Covid-19. However, the mass media coverage, distribution of inaccurate information and the constant barrage of precautionary health advice has the potential to severely impact the nation’s mental-wellbeing, specifically those already suffering with chronic anxiety or OCD.”