Search icon


07th Jan 2019

Obsessive compulsive symptoms in childhood may lead to other psychological issues later on

Amy Nolan

Obsessive compulsive symptoms in childhood may lead to other psychological issues later on

Engaging in repetitive behaviours is part of typical childhood but if these develop into obsessive-compulsive symptoms it could be a red flag, a new study suggests.

In the first study of its kind, researchers in Pennsylvania studied 7,000 participants ranging in age from 11-21 to monitor repetitive and ritualistic behaviours.

Researchers divided OCS into four categories: bad thoughts, repeating/checking, symmetry, and cleaning/contamination.

Science Daily reported on the study which found:

“More than 20 percent 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.”

Key people involved in the study have said that they hope the data will encourage practitioners to pay greater attention to these symptoms during patient visits.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist and research scientist, Ran Barzilay, said:

“Repetitive actions are common in young children, and are in fact a healthy part of development,” but added that:

“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 3 percent met the criteria for OCD. OCS were more common in females and after puberty. The researchers suggest OCS may be a window for mental health professionals to probe and identify serious psychiatric conditions.