The Cost of Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder in Swedish Youth

Our research team at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet has recently published a study on the cost of illness of childhood Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The results indicate that the cost of OCD in childhood is a significant burden for society. However, effective treatments exist and are relatively affordable. Thus, early detection and treatment of OCD in youth should be prioritized.

It is well known that OCD causes significant suffering and fundamentally disrupts the everyday life of the affected child as well as the family. On the individual level, kids with OCD usually are in need of support from health care, but also in school and during leisure time activities. In many cases, parents need to take time off from work and other duties to help the child with homework, coping with the OCD at home and attending health care visits.

Due to the impact on the everyday life of the child and family, OCD has been thought to require a broad range of societal support resources. However, up until now there has not been a reliable estimate of the socioeconomic impact of OCD in childhood. Such cost data is important to help decision makers, politicians and clinicians make evidence-based decisions regarding the early detection and treatment of OCD in childhood.

In this study, we compared a wide range of individual-level cost data of children 7–17 years with OCD with a control group from the general population in Sweden.

Societal costs were 87% higher in the OCD sample, mainly due to significantly higher healthcare costs, parental absence from work and school productivity loss.

“The total societal burden of pediatric OCD in Sweden was estimated to be 94.3 € million per year.”

Lenhard et al (2021)

We estimated that OCD was associated with a 87% increase of costs for society, equalling a total annual cost of 94,3 million € for Swedish society. As a reference, this is the worth of about 265 000 hours of psychological treatment.

As we know that OCD is a treatable condition that successfully can be addressed with CBT or medication, these results have important implications for policy makers and for the allocation of healthcare resources. Moreover, internet-delivered CBT has been developed and has not only been shown to be effective in the management of childhood OCD, but is also cost-effective when directly compared to traditional in-person CBT (Aspvall et al, 2021).

Thus, the early detection and treatment of OCD should be a priority, both to alleviate individual suffering of the affected individuals and their families, but also because it appears to be a sensible use of our limited societal resources.

Link to the fulltext article, published in the peer-reviewed journal Child Psychiatry & Human Development:

Article references
Aspvall K, Andersson E, Melin K, et al. Effect of an Internet-Delivered Stepped-Care Program vs In-Person Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms in Children and Adolescents: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2021;325(18):1863–1873. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.3839

Aspvall K, Sampaio F, Lenhard F, et al. Cost-effectiveness of Internet-Delivered vs In-Person Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children and Adolescents With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(7):e2118516. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.18516

Lenhard, F., Aspvall, K., Andersson, E. et al. The Cost of Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder in Swedish Youth. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev (2021).

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