When asked if obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety disorders are caused by genetic or environmental factors, the standard answer has always been, “A combination of both.”
While there’s not much we can do about our genes (at least not yet!), there is a lot we can do about various environmental factors that might contribute to the development of OCD.
In this wonderful article, Dr. Suzanne Phillips addresses the question, “Is parental anxiety contagious?” I highly recommend reading this informative article, which discusses everything from recent research to anxiety reducing strategies for parents of teens. The bottom line?
“Yes, parental anxiety is contagious. The greater our anxiety–the greater the anxiety of our kids.”
Yes, my heart sank too when I read this conclusion, which to many of us is not really new information. But, as Dr. Phillips points out, this is actually good news. If we parents can learn how to reduce and control our own anxiety, our children will benefit as well. We have the power to break the cycle!
In fact, a recent study conducted by Dr. Golda Ginsburg (a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut Health Center) and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University concluded that with appropriate family intervention (which includes, not surprisingly, some exposure exercises), anxious parents can actually raise calm children:
“Only nine percent of children who participated in a therapist-directed family intervention developed anxiety after one year, compared to 21 percent in a group that received written instruction, and 31 percent in the group that did not receive any therapy or written instruction.”
According to Dr. Ginsburg, the focus here needs to shift from reaction to prevention:
“In the medical system there are other prevention models, like dental care, where we go every six months for a cleaning. I think adopting that kind of model — a mental health checkup, a prevention model for folks who are at risk — is I think where we need to go next.”
The main thing I take away from these articles and research is the fact that anxiety is indeed very treatable, and parents who learn to manage their own anxiety are not only helping themselves but helping their children as well. While we might not be able to prevent their developing OCD, we can teach our children the skills needed to respond appropriately to anxiety, and model these behaviors ourselves. Laying this groundwork will certainly prove helpful should our children find themselves face to face with obsessive-compulsive disorder.