New study finds that children and young adults with obsessive and compulsive symptoms (OCS) who also admitted to having bad thoughts are more likely to experience psychopathology, including depression and suicide. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Engaging in repetitive and ritualistic behaviors is part of typical child development. However, behaviors that develop into obsessive and compulsive symptoms (OCS) may represent a red flag for serious psychiatric conditions.
‘Obsessive and compulsive symptoms (OCS) are more common among young adults. Although for most of the youths OCS symptoms may be moderate, some patterns of OCS are linked to major psychiatric conditions.’
This is the first and largest study examining OCS in more than 7,000 participants aged 11 to 21.
Researchers divided OCS into four categories: bad thoughts, repeating/checking, symmetry, and cleaning/contamination. More than 20 percent of youth admitted to having bad intrusive thoughts, which included thoughts about harming oneself or others, picturing violent images, or fear that one would do something bad without intending to. These children were more likely to develop serious psychopathology beyond obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including depression and suicide.
"Our hope is that these results will propel both mental health professionals and non-mental health practitioners, such as pediatricians, to probe for these symptoms during their patients' visits," said the study's principal investigator Raquel Gur>, MD, PhD, director of the LiBI and a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Radiology in the Perelman School of Medicine. "These symptoms may be vital for identifying adolescents who are on a potentially debilitating psychiatric trajectory."
"Repetitive actions are common in young children, and are in fact a healthy part of development," says the lead author of the study Ran Barzilay, MD, Ph.D., child, and adolescent psychiatrist and research scientist at LiBI. "It's when these symptoms continue into adolescence and start to interfere with day-to-day activities that we really need to examine the cause and treatments available."
OCS were common in individuals who did not seek mental health treatments (38.2 percent). Only three percent met the threshold for OCD. OCS was more common in females and after puberty. The researchers suggest OCS may be a window for clinicians to probe and identify serious psychiatric conditions.