The COVID-19 Pandemic is Associated with Increased Rates of OCD in Pregnant Women

Yukta Kulkarni ’22

Figure 1: More pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic are experiencing clinically significant obsessive-compulsive symptoms as compared to before the pandemic. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder indicated by intrusive thoughts, such as fears of uncleanliness, which lead to repetitive behaviors. While it is common in the US, OCD rates have increased in the overall population due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is thought that higher OCD occurrences are due to fear of how contagious the virus is and how little was known about it. As OC symptoms surged, researchers investigated how groups already susceptible to OCD, such as pregnant women, were faring. Under normal circumstances, 2-3% of women express novel OC symptoms during pregnancy due to their need to keep their child safe. It is possible that these OC symptoms have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Brittain Mahaffey and their team of researchers hypothesized that stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic would be a better indicator of OC symptoms than pregnancy-related stress.  

To test their hypothesis, the researchers gathered 4,451 pregnant women during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants were initially asked questions from the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5 (SCID-5) that screened for OC symptoms. The participants who responded affirmatively continued to take the Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory-Revised (OCI-R) to determine if their symptoms were clinically significant, or if they presented both obsessions and compulsions. All participants then took the Revised Prenatal Distress Questionnaire (NuPDQ), which measures stress related to pregnancy, and the Pandemic-Related Pregnancy Stress Scale (PREPS), which measures stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic. After statistical analyses were performed, 7.12% of the participants had clinically significant OC symptoms, higher than the previously noted average of 2-3%. It was also seen that the PREP scale more accurately predicted OC symptoms in the 7.12% of pregnant women who were categorized as having OCD than the NuPDQ. 

The results suggest that OC symptoms are more prevalent in times of crisis since a higher number of pregnant women tested positive for symptoms that were clinically significant. Additionally, the PREP scale predicted OC symptoms more accurately than the NuPDQ, suggesting that the stress endured by pregnant women during a pandemic may have a specific, and possibly perceptible, influence on developing OC symptoms. Based on these results, it is important for healthcare professionals to take into account the effect of the pandemic on pregnant women’s mental health. This recommendation should also stay in effect for future crises in helping parents take care of their mental health and that of their baby. However, future studies should collect a larger, and more varied sample size to get a more accurate result based on ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial factors. 

References:

[1] B. Mahaffey, et al., Elevated risk for obsessive-compulsive symptoms in women pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Archives of Women’s Mental Health (2021). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-021-01157-w 

[2] Image retrieved from: https://www.rawpixel.com/image/3305337/free-photo-image-pregnancy-baby-mom-and 

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