Feature Article of Sunday, 25 April 2010

Columnist: Twumasi, Patrick

Alert! OCD Brewing With H1N1

H1N1 the pandemic influenza, otherwise known as swine flu has given the potent
indication yet that, indeed nations are independent, but are not isolated.

Ever since the H1N1 out break in Mexico, and subsequently been considered a pandemic
by the World Health Organisation (WHO), many have been the fatalities. This pandemic
influenza has spread gradually across the globe, with new infections on daily bases.

Here in Ghana, some schools have been closed down. The hardest hit among school
closures has been, Senior High schools in the Central region though, some classes of
Senior and Junior High Schools in the Greater Accra region have suffered same.

The Ghana Health Service, has been at it wit end, impacting preventive education
through which citizens can stay safe from H1N1 infection. Varied media and mediums
are being utilized in pursuit of this agenda. Hence, Ghanaians are well armed with
symptoms and signs of the influenza. These include, headache, throwing up, soar
throat and bodily pains. Others are diarrhea and cold. The measures to mitigate
the contraction of the swine flu, as advocated by the Ghana Health Service,
involves, regular washing of hands with soap and water. Citizens are advised to
refrain from touching the nose and eyes with unkempt hands. The use of tissue and
covering of the mouth, and nose during coughing and sneezing respectively have been
urged. Indiscriminate spiting has equally been advocated against. All these
measures are to restrict and reduce the prevalence rate of the H1N1 pandemic.

Attempts by the Ministry of Health, and the Ghana Health Service to withstand the
threats of H1N1 have a resultant anxiety factor of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This is also known as, OCD. The urge to regularly wash hands with soap and water,
and other hygienic steps disseminated, raised the level of anxiety. Imagine
shaking hands at a social function, a security officer at a border, who has to go
through items of travelers, and then hands must be washed at each session. At each
of these instances, if the eye or nose is touched, or something is eaten, the fellow
becomes anxious. What about some one coughing and sneezing near you without
covering the mouth and nose respectively? The waving of handkerchiefs during
church services has similarly been advised against.

Most people feel anxious, and tensed in the face of threatening or stressful
situations. Such feelings are normal to stress. Anxiety is considered abnormal
only when it occurs in situations that most people can handle with little
difficulty. Anxiety disorders, include a group of disorders in which anxiety is
either the main symptom (generalised anxiety and panic disorders) or anxiety is
experienced when the individual attempts to control certain maladaptive behaviours
(phobic and obsessive-compulsive disorders)

Individuals with an obsessive–compulsive disorder feel compelled to think about
things they would rather not think about or perform acts they do not wish to carry
out. If the frequency of hand washing has increased prior to the advent of the HIN1
influenza, coupled with the thought of infection, a person will become anxious.
Obsessions are persistent intrusions of unwelcome thoughts or images.
The consistent thought of having touched door
handles, shook a hand and, someone sneezing close to you without covering the mouth
with a handkerchief, and a possible infection of H1N1 raises anxiety. Compulsions
are irresistible urges to carry out certain acts or rituals. The feeling to
sanitise ones hands and door handles each time they are used or someone touches it
(door handles), as anxiety reduction rituals appreciates.

Obsessive thoughts may be linked with compulsive acts (thoughts of lurking disease
germs combined with the compulsion to wash eating utensils many times before using
them). At times, all of us have persistent recurring thoughts such as “Did I
leave the gas turned on?” urges us to perform ritualistic behaviours. But when a
person has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, such thoughts and urges, occupy so much
time that they seriously interfere with daily life. These thoughts and urges are
irrational but many feel unable to control them. For instance, taking three
–four showers in succession scrumbling one’s body thoroughly with antibacterial
cleanser each time, before been convinced of bacterial free. Many citizens are
undergoing stressful times in this period of H1N1.

This disorder originated from the novel titled “Macbeth”. In the novel,
Macbeth was prevailed upon by the better half to take the life of the King.
Macbeth later began feeling stressful. He mentally felt his hands were stained
with the blood of the King. At each reflection or thought of this mental image, he
would wash his hands. Gradually, this thought of blood stained hands or mental
images, and subsequent hand washing persistently interfered with, Macbeth’s
life. This led to people who indulge in such a behaviour being referred to as
“washers” Indeed it is a stressful situation. In actual fact, most citizens are
undergoing a Psychological trauma.

Equally relieving is the Psychological remedy of systematic desensitization and is
based on the learning principles of classical conditioning (Wolpe, 1958). It is an
anxiety–reduction technique implementable in stressful situations, such as these
times. Systematic desensitisation enshrines, the enumeration of anxious moments for
high or higher anxious periods to a less anxiety state. Then, the list of anxiety
from high to less is turned upside down. The procedure of anxiety reduction, will
then begin with the less anxious period, gradually with a systematic sensitized
fellow been taken step-by-step to the high anxiety state. It is now the duty of
the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service to do with or employ this
psychological strategy to relieve many who are suffering from obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD). The problem with OCD is, due to the rituals many perform to reduce
their anxiety people do not feel pleasant to talk about
them. But infact a lot of the Ghanaian citizenry are becoming washers and have
become or are perhaps phobic in shaking hands, and as well as touching door handles
and the likes. This is due to fear of contracting the H1N1 pandemic influenza.

A life of scholarship is a life of service, hence attempts have been made in this
article to help bring to the fore this side of the H1NI pandemic influenza. This
aspect might be doing a lot of damage than one can imagine. It is indeed a thick
in the margin of many citizens.

The earlier the Health Ministry, and the Ghana Health Service, seek the counsel of a
Psychologist to relieve many, who only God knows their obsessions, and subsequent
rituals, they perform to ease their cognitive anxieties the better.

Patrick Twumasi
A Journalist