A Rise in OCD Diagnoses for College Students: What You Need to Know

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with increases in mental health problems in the United States. For the past few years, headlines have warned of worsening mental health for children, teens, and adults, so you probably have a general idea of the psychological problems facing the population. If you are the parent of a college student, or you’re a college student yourself, you may be interested in learning about the specific behavioral health concerns affecting this age group. One mental health disorder that has become more common in this population is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but with treatment, recovery is possible. 

OCD in College Students: What the Research Says 

The latest statistics show an increase in OCD among college students in the United States. According to data from the National College Health Assessment, between 2019 and 2022, the percentage of college students reporting an OCD diagnosis increased from 4 percent to 6 percent. 

The latest report from the National College Health Assessment, conducted in Fall 2022, also shows the following OCD statistics for college students:

  • 2.8% of cis gender college men report they’ve been diagnosed with OCD at some point in their lives.
  • 7.4% of cis gender women in college have had an OCD diagnosis during their lifetimes.
  • 14.6% of transgender or gender non-conforming college students have been diagnosed with OCD at some point. 
  • 67% of those diagnosed with OCD have had contact with a healthcare or mental health provider in the past 12 months.

Based upon the available data, we can conclude that OCD is becoming more common, in general, in college-aged students. However, women and transgender/gender non-conforming students are more likely to be affected by OCD when compared to men. Finally, more college students are seeing healthcare providers for OCD treatment today compared to 2019, when 60.6 percent of those with OCD reported seeing a healthcare provider within the last 12 months.

Signs Treatment is Needed

If you’re a family member or friend of someone struggling with OCD symptoms, or you’re a college student who feels that their mental health functioning is deteriorating, it’s helpful to know the signs of OCD. When these signs are present, and they interfere with daily functioning, it’s likely time to reach out for treatment. 

Signs of OCD include:

  • Experiencing obsessions, with are repeated thoughts or images that cause significant distress (for instance, repeatedly worrying about becoming ill)
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors, called compulsions, to attempt to manage the distress associated with obsessions (ie: compulsively counting, excessively cleaning, or repeatedly washing hands)
  • Spending an hour or more per day tied up with obsessions and compulsions 
  • Struggling to control obsessions and compulsions
  • Being unable to participate in important life activities, such as work, hobbies, or caring for a family, because of fixation on obsessions and compulsions 

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, OCD symptoms are likely to be related to fears surrounding illness and contamination. In fact, one recent study found that a significant portion of people with OCD experienced worsening symptoms during the pandemic, and those with symptoms related to contamination and washing were particularly vulnerable to symptom worsening. 

In some cases, the pandemic could have sparked a return or worsening of OCD symptoms for college students previously affected by OCD. For others, the stress of the pandemic could have led to the new onset of OCD. Both of these scenarios could explain the recent increase in OCD diagnosis in college students. Regardless of the cause, when OCD symptoms make it difficult to enjoy life, it’s time to seek professional intervention. 

Treatment for OCD

Increases in OCD among college students are concerning, but the good news is that there is treatment available. OCD is commonly treated with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to treat OCD symptoms, but they may take several weeks to work. 

There are various types of talk therapy that may be beneficial for treating OCD. Two common forms of therapy for OCD include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention. CBT can help individuals with OCD to change distorted thinking patterns so that they experience less distress. Exposure and response prevention requires people to confront items or situations that trigger them, but then prevents them from engaging in their usual compulsions. With the help of a therapist, this process can help individuals with OCD to overcome their compulsions.

When Treatment Fails

While there is effective treatment for OCD, not everyone experiences adequate improvement with medications and/or therapy. In this case, it may be necessary to explore alternative treatment modalities. One possibility worth exploring is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The FDA approved this as an add-on treatment for OCD in 2018, and individuals who haven’t found relief with other treatment modalities may benefit from adding TMS to their treatment regimen.

TMS is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique; it uses a device placed against the forehead to deliver pulses to the brain. These pulses stimulate areas of the brain associated with mood regulation, making TMS beneficial for the treatment of mental health conditions. Research has demonstrated that TMS yields lasting benefits for patients with OCD, and it reduces the level of disability associated with the condition. TMS can be an ideal OCD treatment for college students, because it’s completed in brief 20 minute sessions, with no anesthesia required. 

If you or a loved one lives with treatment-resistant OCD, TMS treatment may help. Pulse TMS offers services for those in the Los Angeles area, conveniently located in West Los Angeles, with easy access to Interstate 405 and Santa Monica Boulevard. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.

Article By: admin-pulsetms