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.
In a recent study, researchers found children and young adults with OCS who also admitted to having bad thoughts were more likely to also experience psychopathology, including depression and suicide.
This is the first and largest study examining OCS in more than 7,000 participants aged 11 to 21.
The research was conducted by the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
The researchers divided OCS into four categories: bad thoughts, repeating/checking, symmetry, and cleaning/contamination.
More than 20% 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.
The team hopes 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.
These symptoms may be vital for identifying adolescents who are on a potentially debilitating psychiatric trajectory.
The researchers also suggest that repetitive actions are common in young children, and are in fact a healthy part of development.
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.
The study’s principal researcher is Raquel Gur>, MD, PhD, director of the LiBI and a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Radiology in the Perelman School of Medicine.
The lead author of the study is Ran Barzilay, MD, PhD, child and adolescent psychiatrist and research scientist at LiBI.
The findings are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
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