“PANDAS like other forms of OCD, can be characterized by fears of doing something terrible, but not acting on those fears,” says Jeff Szymanski, PhD, clinical psychologist and executive director of the International OCD Foundation.
PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections), is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that is brought on by the immune response to an infection, such as strep throat, whereby the body’s immune system essentially misfires and attacks an area of the brain, bringing on severe rapid-onset OCD symptoms in kids and teens. OCD is characterized by unwanted obsessions and compulsions: these obsessions are involuntary, intrusive, unwanted thoughts that trigger extreme anxiety.
“The type of obsessions seen in OCD typically include contamination fears (fear of catching a disease from touching a doorknob, for example) but can also include violent thoughts or anxiety over harming oneself or others,” says Dr. Szymanski. “However, for someone with OCD these obsessive thoughts remain just that — thoughts. “
“In fact, individuals with OCD are so frightened by the presence of these thoughts that they go to great lengths to try to make the thoughts go away and avoid any potential ‘triggers’ for these unwanted thoughts. For example, they may avoid talking about violence, watching anything violent on television, or even reading about violent subject matter. The idea of ever acting on these thoughts is horrifying to individuals with OCD.”
We have all likely experienced an instance of an intrusive unwanted thought — for example, worries over a big work project cropping up constantly while you were trying to sleep or trying to focus on another task, and no matter how hard you tried to dismiss the thought, it persisted. Imagine experiencing that type of intrusive worry or anxiety every day. And imagine that instead of the thought being about something mundane and part of your life — like finishing a big project — the thought was about something completely taboo and didn’t represent you or your values in any way. Imagine the thought was of accidentally stabbing yourself in the leg with a butcher knife. Despite not being in possession of a butcher knife, despite having no history of experiencing a stabbing, despite having no reason for this thought to crop up. This is OCD.
Imagine you had this thought constantly, but especially while you were trying to cook dinner in the kitchen. What would you do? Avoid touching a knife? Perhaps throw out every single knife from your house? Or maybe never step foot in your kitchen? Essentially, you would go to great lengths and extreme measures to prevent your violent thought from ever coming to fruition. These are the types of obsessive thoughts and resulting actions typically associated with OCD.
“OCD is not rational, but it is also not violent,” adds Dr. Szymanski. “Individuals with OCD are extremely risk-averse.”
“In addition, PANDAS is typically associated with an abrupt onset of concentration problems, inattention, hyperactivity and loss of fine motor control in kids,” says Dr. Szymanski, “which would severely compromise the ability to plan or orchestrate any sort of coordinated attack.”
People with mental illness already face such extreme hardships in the form of stigma, lack of access to effective care, and continued misperceptions about mental health issues — the media needs to be extremely careful not to add to these hardships by attributing violent actions and behaviors to a specific diagnosis without having all of the information.
For more information about OCD, please see the following resources on our website:
NIMH Research Update on PANDAS: http://intramural.nimh.nih.gov/pdn/web.htm
About the IOCDF
The International OCD Foundation is a donor-supported nonprofit organization. Founded in 1986 by a group of individuals with OCD, the Foundation has grown into a international membership-based organization serving a broad community of individuals with OCD and related disorders, their family members and loved ones, and mental health professionals and researchers. We have affiliates in 22 states and territories in the US, in addition to partnerships with other OCD organizations around the world. The Foundation aims to improve outcomes for individuals with OCD and related disorders by:
- Providing resources and support for those affected by OCD, including individuals with OCD and related disorders, their family members, friends, and loved ones.
- Increasing access to effective treatment through:
- Educating mental health professionals about evidence-based treatments.
- Providing a forum for professional collaboration and networking.
- Supporting research into the causes of and treatments for OCD and related disorders.
- Promoting awareness about OCD and related disorders to the OCD community and the general public.
Director of Communications
cbourne @ ocfoundation.org
617-973-5801 ext. 28