Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

We often think of different mental health conditions as totally independent from each other. Depression is separate from anxiety is separate from bipolar disorder, and so on: they have different names, different symptoms and different treatments.

In reality, though, distinct psychiatric disorders seem to be related to some extent. For one thing, different conditions can share some of the same underlying genes. Then there’s the fact that people who have one mental health condition are more likely to have other mental health conditions as well.

An example is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Recently, a study looked at whether people who are diagnosed with OCD as adolescents or young adults have a higher risk for other conditions later on.

In the study, researchers tracked 3,021 participants over the course of a decade, from ages 14 to 24, so they were able to collect some fairly extensive data on what other psychiatric conditions OCD is associated with.

They found that people who were diagnosed with OCD had higher risk for developing several other disorders later on. In particular, these people were 6.9 times as likely to develop bipolar disorder, 6.8 times as likely to develop bulimia, 4.4 times as likely to develop dysthymia, 3.4 times as likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder and 2.9 times as likely to develop social anxiety disorder.

Those are not insignificant numbers! For example, being at almost sevenfold higher risk of bipolar disorder is a big difference. These results clearly suggest that people who have OCD are also more likely to have a variety of other mental health conditions as well.

There are a couple implications to these findings. One is that we might be able to learn more about psychiatric disorders like OCD not only by researching the disorders in isolation but by exploring areas of overlap between multiple disorders.

There’s also the intriguing possibility that having access to effective treatment for OCD early on could cut the risk of later developing these other disorders. For this reason, the authors of the study suggest that future research “should evaluate if early treatment of OCD can prevent the onset of these subsequent mental disorders.”

Image: Flickr/Jesper Sehested