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OCD patients battling heightened fears amid spread of the coronavirus

Local therapist says there are not enough providers to help the people who need it.

ATLANTA — Fears of the coronavirus are spreading as fast as the new virus, as it creeps into communities from abroad. But a metro Atlanta therapist said she's seen those with mental health diagnoses battling their own particular fears.

Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) therapist Shala Nicely told 11Alive many of the 2.2 million Americans who struggle with the disorder now have even more heightened fears with the coronavirus outbreak.

“Even before coronavirus, just worries about the flu can keep people with OCD from going out and participating in activities that they might otherwise enjoy,” Nicely explained.

MORE: Coronavirus facts

Nicely said while many may think of those with OCD as people who like to be “extra clean and have things organized," in reality, she said it's the tenth-most debilitating medical condition in the world.

"People become locked in this mental prison which they can't escape," she said. "Those people look at the world as a very dangerous place."

"Behavior Modeling" is one method used to treat OCD, Nicely explained. But the guidelines on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus may actually trigger fears for OCD patients, she said. 

For example, the CDC's advice to frequently wash hands may lead those with OCD - who may wash their hands a hundred times a day - feel justified in doing so.

RELATED: VERIFY: Hand sanitizer can protect against coronavirus, but not as well as washing your hands

“For me it's been a constant state of fear,” admitted Christopher Trondsen, who has been diagnosed with OCD. 

He told 11Alive he can normally talk himself down when people cough around him. But the sight of people wearing masks, the international travel advisories, and the cases now here in the U.S. raises his anxiety to a new level.

"People are dying from it, and I feel like there is nothing I can do, and I feel out of control about it," he said.

RELATED: Gov. Kemp on coronavirus: 'No time for Georgians to panic'

However, Nicely said there are two things people can do. 

First, she advised people manage their information intake, meaning they should limit how often they check the news or social media for coronavirus updates. Setting a boundaries to once a day or every other day could be helpful, she said. 

She also recommended people keep reminding themselves that following the CDC and World Health Organization guidelines are in their control, and that is enough to keep most people safe.

For more information contact the International OCD Foundation ioccf.org


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