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Coronavirus handwashing advice ‘could lead to increased OCD behaviour’

The Government has advised members of the public to wash their hands more than usual.

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The Government is advising members of the public to use hand sanitiser (Philip Toscano/PA)

The Government is advising members of the public to use hand sanitiser (Philip Toscano/PA)

The Government is advising members of the public to use hand sanitiser (Philip Toscano/PA)

Handwashing guidance issued to tackle the spread of the coronavirus may lead to an increase in obsessive compulsive disorder-type behaviour, a psychologist has warned.

Professor Craig Jackson, from Birmingham City University, raised concerns that advice issued by Public Health England could inadvertently reinforce OCD-type behaviour in susceptible patients.

The Government has advised members of the public to wash their hands more than usual – for 20 seconds using soap and hot water – and to use hand sanitiser to stop the spread of Covid-19.

But Prof Jackson said that for those suffering from OCD or related disorders, the official advice could make their conditions “even harder” to treat.

“There is a possible danger that Covid-19 could make things worse for those with obsessive-type conditions,” he said.

“For those with OCD or conditions involving cleanliness, neatness, germ-phobia, tidiness or some obsessive behaviours, the Covid-19 outbreak may actually reinforce to them that their behaviours were actually what kept them safe during the outbreak.

“This could make their conditions even harder to treat or manage in the future.

The Prime Minister has been among those giving handwashing advice (Jack Hill/The Times/PA Wire)
The Prime Minister has been among those giving handwashing advice (Jack Hill/The Times/PA)

“We all have the power to be rational and think what we want, what we want to behave like, what things will upset us and what we can do when we are upset to feel better quickly.

“When we panic we lose the ability to take control. Replace doubt and uncertainty caused by worry with knowledge and fact.”

The professor of occupational health psychology advised anyone feeling overwhelmed by coverage of coronavirus to take a break from reading or watching the news.

He said: “Turn off the news for a while – or at least find a less sensationalistic new source, and perhaps try and find the real facts for themselves.

“Looking at reliable sources such as Public Health England, Public Health Wales or NHS Scotland will be beneficial.

“The message here is for people to be critical and question the news they receive.”

PA