OCD sufferers may struggle more with coping strategies

A new study has shown that those suffering from obsessive compulsive Disorder (OCD) may struggle to cope with their diagnosis more than those with other mental illnesses.

OCD is a complex psychological condition and is often characterised by two main parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are persistent thoughts, urges or worries that create high levels of anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive, ritualistic actions, designed to reduce the anxiety created by the obsessions.

Led by Steffen Moritz at University Hospital Hamburg, the study compared the behaviour of 60 OCD patients with 110 patients with depression and a control group of 1,050. The participants completed anonymous online surveys, detailing their medical and psychological history as well as individual levels of compulsivity and ability to cope with specific situations.

One such survey was the Maladaptive and Adaptive Coping Styles Questionnaire (MAX) that measures coping styles in three dimensions. The first is maladaptive coping, which includes such actions as thought suppression and thought rumination. Second is adaptive coping, meaning problem-solving and acceptance of a situation. The last is simply avoidance, refraining from a situation altogether.

It was found that those participants suffering from OCD possessed more maladaptive coping strategies compared to any of the others, including those suffering from depression. Maladaptive coping strategies often lead to an increase in anxiety and an over-reliance on certain objects or people. Additionally, those with OCD were found to possess fewer functional and adaptive coping skills, which would mean a smaller chance of developing resistance to symptoms and having poorer insight into their own condition.

The study shows that OCD sufferers may need more help adopting adaptive coping strategies. Not only does this mean developing better problem-solving and acceptance skills but also challenging negative thoughts, finding distractions or seeking professional help.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Dr. Moritz explained how finding adaptive coping skills is incredibly valuable in all areas of everyday life, not just in mental health. He advocated for the early teaching and development of such coping strategies “in the framework of general cognitive preventative treatment, and resilience training in schools, [which] may help children to better deal with emotional turmoil and challenging situations during adolescence.”

He expanded by saying that the development of adequate coping skills “may also prevent the progression of a vulnerability to later obsessive compulsive disorder or depression as well as other [psychological] disorders.”

Those suffering from OCD can experience a severe lack in quality of life and this study shows how many maladaptive coping skills may be damaging, rather than improving, their situation. The research highlights some of the essential strategies patients with OCD struggle with and how these skills can help rewire negative thinking to better cope with their condition.

The study concludes by saying that further research is needed to find out the full extent to which improving coping skills during childhood and adolescence through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or similar interventions can relieve an OCD patient’s symptoms.

Nonetheless, it is an important advancement in better understanding the nature of OCD and similar mental illnesses, as well as gaining knowledge on what can be done to either slow progression of the condition or help a sufferer cope and achieve the best possible quality of life.

Image credit: airpix via flickr

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