Obsessive-compulsive Symptoms and Information Seeking During the Covid-19 Pandemic
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Description: Increased mental health symptoms as a reaction to stressful life events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, are common. Critically, successful adaptation helps reduce such symptoms to baseline, preventing long-term psychiatric disorders. It is thus important to understand whether and which psychiatric symptoms show transient elevations, and which persist long-term and become chronically heightened. At particular risk for the latter trajectory are symptom dimensions directly affected by the pandemic, such as obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms. In this longitudinal large-scale study (N=406), we assessed how OC, anxiety, and depression symptoms changed throughout the first pandemic wave in a sample of the general UK public. We further examined how these symptoms affected pandemic-related information seeking and adherence to governmental guidelines. We show that scores in all psychiatric domains were initially elevated, but showed distinct longitudinal change patterns. Depression scores decreased, and anxiety plateaued during the first pandemic wave, while OC symptoms further increased, even after the ease of Covid-19 restrictions. These OC symptoms were directly linked to Covid-related information seeking which gave rise to higher adherence to government guidelines. This increase of OC symptoms in this non-clinical sample shows that the domain is disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We discuss the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on public mental health which calls for continued close observation of symptom development.