How OCD can ruin your education
Over and over again. Source: Shutterstock

That’s an exaggeration, but one that is still highly possible according to what a new study in Europe has found.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – the mental health condition where a person gets obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours – can affect how likely you are to pass school tests and head on to university. The effects continue beyond that too – with less schooling, this leads to fewer job opportunities and lower pay over a lifetime.

“OCD often starts in childhood/adolescence and can be chronic,” said Ana Perez-Vigil, a researcher with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, which leads the study.

“Sufferers typically experience highly distressing thoughts and feel compelled to perform rituals (compulsions) for several hours a day. This can have a major impact on the person’s ability to concentrate and benefit from school,” Perez-Vigil told Reuters Health in an email.

OCD students may find it hard to sit in the classroom or feel compelled to constantly perform rituals, such as hand-washing, re-reading or re-writing sentences repeatedly – all of which make their learning experience difficult. In some severe cases, these students have had to miss school for long periods of time or drop out altogether.

“Everyone who regularly works with persons who have obsessive-compulsive disorder has seen that their patients often struggle with school work.”

OCD sufferers have to deal with frequent unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, which causes them anxiety, disgust or unease. To allay these obsessive thoughts, they perform repetitive physical or mental acts to temporarily relieve them of those unpleasant feelings.

Washing over and over again. Source: Shutterstock

As many as 12 in every 1000 people (1.2 percent of the population) are affected by OCD, regardless of their age, gender or socio-cultural background. The World Health Organisation (WHO) once ranked OCD as one of the most disabling illnesses of any kinds, causing sufferers to lose earning and quality of life, the mental health charity OCD-UK website wrote.

For the study, Perez-Vigil and her team looked at several national registers of people born in Sweden between Jan 1, 1976, and Dec 21, 1998 as well as their educational milestones in the Swedish school system to understand OCD’s impact.

Here’s what they found: Those with OCD were 40-65 percent less likely to pass all their compulsory education courses in their middle-teens. They are also 53 percent less likely to move on to an upper secondary vocational school program and 39 less likely to get into an academic upper secondary program. With OCD, you’re also 57 percent less likely to finish upper secondary school.

The gap between those with and without OCD continues even at university-level, where those with the condition were found to be 28 percent less likely to start a university degree programme. If they do, they are 41 percent less likely to finish a degree and 48 percent less likely to finish their postgraduate education.

According to Perez-Vigil,

Academic underachievement pervades ‘across the lifespan’.

But one possible solution to fix this could be through early diagnosis and intervention.

“We also observe that it is difficult for young people to return to school even if they have had a successful treatment with us. Considerable efforts are needed from the families, schools and mental health professionals to try to get these kids back on track,” Perez-Vigil said.

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

16 types of housemates you might end up living with at university

How to overcome exam anxiety