“It is a challenging time for people who have OCD.”. hospitals), Avoidance of intimacy and sexual behavior for fear of catching or spreading blood-borne diseases, Excessive avoidance of sharp objects, Band-Aids, or anything that could be perceived as causing or having come in contact with exposed blood, Excessive washing to ensure there is no blood on the skin or clothes, Excessive cleaning of items feared to have come in contact with blood (i.e. A long time ago, it was probably a good idea to get far away from it before it attracted saber-toothed tigers (or vampires). People who have an obsessive fear of blood contamination often focus as much on the fear of spreading harm to a loved one as on being contaminated themselves. One of Veale’s patients with coronavirus OCD, for example, has started to fixate on whether they can catch the disease from Chinese food. So guidance to do so regularly is reviving their anxieties – and triggering them in others, Fri 13 Mar 2020 15.20 GMT Some of these people have spent years trying not to wash their hands, often as a prescribed part of their treatment. “It’s a lot harder to tell yourself that the urge to wash your hands is irrational when everyone on your Twitter feed or on the news is saying: ‘Wash your hands. Challenging distorted beliefs and ideas about blood can help reduce the reliance on compulsions, so long as these challenges are not used as a ritualized form of a reassurance. It’s very exhausting, you know, having to repeat that process again.” MacNeill’s anxieties were eventually successfully treated and he is not overly worried that coronavirus will set them off again. But OCD makes it difficult to draw that line. For contamination-related OCD, that response prevention frequently involves getting them to not wash their hands, sometimes for days on end. Boris Johnson does it while singing Happy Birthday twice. The irrational content of those thoughts is limited only by the spectrum of human imagination. Sophie Lucas is our Anxiety House blogger and is studying Bachelor of Communications at UQ. In 2012, Australian scientists reported the first cases of OCD in people who fixate on thoughts about climate change – a bogeyman for the new millennium and one that, like HIV in the 1980s, poses an uncertain, universal threat, depicted in lurid detail by the mass media. For Roselle this could be seeing a spot on somebody’s pants that reminded her of bird excrement. In some cases, Veale says, the coronavirus threat could bring on OCD for the first time. There are also various medication options that may be beneficial for some individuals when used in conjunction with therapy. Yet OCD creates the same problem. “It’s definitely put a lot of the internal OCD dialogue back into my life. What should they look out for? Since I published a book on my experiences with OCD, I have met people obsessed with the idea that if they close their eyes, the whole world will change while they are not looking, or that if they hand-write a letter or a number that contains a closed loop, their family will die. After all, if you are seeing blood outside of the body, it usually means something is wrong. So, despite there being nothing inherently dangerous about blood, somewhere in our genetic database is probably an urge to avoid being in its presence. Inside the body, very cool stuff indeed. And given you have OCD, you’re probably better off not.”. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. You can’t just not think something. While there are various forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this article will focus on one category known as contamination OCD, and the similarities and distinct differences between its two subcategories – contact contamination OCD and mental contamination OCD. If I say don’t think about blood, it will have the same effect as me saying not to think about a tap-dancing giraffe! If I am not certain, then I may have gotten some blood on me and it may give me a terrible disease. They were told by their bosses that they shouldn’t say so publicly because: “It may be a very risky strategy, including if a patient actually does catch the virus.”, For some OCD patients, the risky strategy is the correct one, says Jon Abramowitz, an OCD expert and therapist at the University of North Carolina. People fear blood because they associate it with being sick, contagious, unlovable, incapable of being around others, ashamed and rejected from society. To break the cycle, the OCD sufferer has to remove the only removable element. But when OCD puts all the focus on “dangerous,” all of life’s other qualities become obscured. Chiefly, the spike in anxiety about the virus can fuel existing obsessive fears of contamination and trigger destructive compulsive actions. If the OCD demands certainty and certainty is unavailable, then why would I certainly avoid sharing a needle but not certainly avoid hugging a person who looks like they might have once shared a needle? Fretting about the virus and washing hands a lot don’t qualify on their own. The contaminants may be real (physical), or ‘magical’ (surreal) – for example fear of contracting illnesses, fatal impairments, health risks, or bad luck, via contact with the names or images of illnesses, people with illnesses, disabled people, or contact with unlucky numbers, superstitious objects, or situations. If they get the disease, they will resent me for ruining their life and I will live in terrible shame knowing it was all my fault. An important difference is that someone with OCD will wash until they feel comfortable or “just right”. Last modified on Wed 1 Jul 2020 18.16 BST. Treatment for OCD is based on the principle of exposure-and-response prevention. People will also think I did something pretty awful to get the disease in the first place and that is the only story that will ever be told about me.”. Roselle wasn’t experiencing typical OCD contamination fears, but rather mental contamination. Often portrayed as a behavioural quirk, OCD is in fact a syndrome defined by recurring irrational thoughts. Being told they do need to repeatedly wash their hands after all could interfere with that recovery. The chain of thought typically goes something like this: “I must be certain that I did not get any blood on me. But I wanted them to say it because for a second or two I believed and the world seemed a brighter place. The content of the thoughts and the nature of the anxiety are usually different, too. But for some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), to be warned they must scrub to protect themselves from an invisible enemy, and to do so in a ritualistic way with internal musical accompaniment, is akin to inviting a demon to come for tea. It is the virus that causes AIDS, it is incurable (as of this writing), and it is loaded with all kinds of stigma and misconceptions. The OCD makes a pretty strong case for doing compulsions. It is relatively weak in that everything pretty much kills it quickly (heat, cold, air, water, saliva) but if it can make it from one person’s blood to another, it has a slight chance of binding to one of that person’s blood cells. For Jacob Rees-Mogg, it’s the national anthem. This typically involves initial low exposure to the contaminant that gradually increases over a period of time as the perceived distress and threat decreases. “I’d wash my hands 20 times in a row,” he says. While that is a common and important area of attention for those interested in understanding OCD, the obsession with bodily fluids may warrant more attention. Mental contamination and traumatic experiences. Combined with the warnings about the virus, the comment sparked an obsession with germs. This removal of the unwanted becomes something the brain naturally gravitates toward more and more through a process called negative reinforcement. A generation was traumatised. The US psychiatrist Judith Rapoport wrote in her book, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing, that by 1989 a third of her OCD patients focused on HIV and Aids. bottom of shoes), Avoidance of people associated (accurately or inaccurately) with blood contact or blood-related illnesses (i.e.
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