Noticing patients with obsessive compulsive disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder and related conditions are more common than many other mental disorders but have long been neglected by both research and psychiatric care. David Mataix-Cols wants to change that.

Professor David Mataix-Cols. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

David Mataix-Cols is doing research on obsessive-compulsive disorder and related conditions. This collective term includes compulsive thoughts and compulsive acts of very different kinds, such as dysmorphobia (perceived defects in personal appearance), hoarding disorder, trichotillomania and excoriation disorder (repetitive pulling out of hair and manipulation of skin resulting in complications) and tics in, for example, Tourette’s syndrome.

“These conditions are serious and much more common than, for example, schizophrenia or autism. Nevertheless healthcare and research have only relatively recently become aware of this group of patients,” he says. “They do not make much of a fuss, but they often suffer a great deal.”

David Mataix-Cols does research both on the causes and expressions of these illnesses and on how they can be treated. One of his most distinctive contributions is that he has isolated hoarding disorder as an illness in its own right. In influential manuals such as DSM-5 and the coming ICD11 pathological hoarding is listed as a separate diagnosis on the basis of his research.

“These patients were a bad fit under obsessive-compulsive disorder, so the change is a good thing. In particular their treatment needs are very different.”

David Mataix-Cols has come from a professorship at the Institute of Psychiatry and Maudsley Hospital, London. The move to Sweden and to the KI opens up new research opportunities, he thinks.

“Here you can carry out research that others can only dream of. The quality of the patient registers is one reason. And I am really looking forward to including internet treatment in my research – Sweden is a world-leader in this area.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "Från Cell till Samhälle", 2014.