Religion linked to obsessive compulsive disorder

People who had a strict or strongly religious upbringing are more likely to show symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) than less religious people, according to research published in New Scientist.

A survey, conducted by the University of Parma in Italy, revealed that devout Catholics reported more severe symptoms of OCD than people with virtually no involvement in religion.

About 1 million people in the UK are affected by OCD. Sufferers can get caught up in vicious mental cycles that take over their everyday lives. Patients can, for instance, become obsessed with the idea that their home is dirty and spend hours cleaning to try and get rid of this thought.

The causes of the condition are not fully understood, although genes, upbringing, head injuries and emotional trauma have all been implicated.

Researchers compared the experiences of people such as nuns and priests who worked in the church, with committed lay Catholics and people who were not religious. The participants were asked to record mild OCD symptoms such as intrusive mental images or worries.

The survey found that a greater number of devout Catholics reported more severe symptoms of OCD.

The research does not, however, show that OCD symptoms can be caused by a religious upbringing. It is equally likely that people with OCD character traits feel more drawn to a religious lifestyle and devote themselves to God.

Lynne Drummond, a psychiatrist at St George’s hospital in London, says that patients must have a genetic predisposition to develop such symptoms. However, she says many OCD patients do say they had a strict upbringing and were taught that actions were either right or wrong.