Primary school student Chloe* believes her tablet is contaminated with bad luck, so she has stopped taking it to class. She worries that disaster will befall her family and friends if she uses the device. Chloe fell behind with her studies last term and her parents worry how she will cope this year. The 13-year-old is among an increasing number of young people presenting to Centacare’s PACE service for anxiety-related mental health challenges.

Over the past seven months, demand for support has trebled as clients aged up to 16 years, and/or parents of young children seek help.

Mental Health Peer Worker Alex Barr said obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) was the leading concern, and was most likely triggered by COVID-19.

“As soon as COVID-19 restrictions started to ease, we were flooded with calls,’’ said Alex, who has supported clients as young as 8 in the past year.

“Pre-COVID, OCD was there but not to the extent we’re seeing it now.

“It might be some clients had a predisposition to OCD and because it’s been such a strange and stressful time with new school, hygiene and social norms, it’s been brought on sooner.’’

The indicators of OCD are obsessions – unwanted and intrusive ideas, thoughts, images or urges – and compulsions or rituals, which the person feels they must perform repeatedly in response to their obsessions.

Alex said contamination, fear of getting sick, magical thinking and harm were the most prevalent themes experienced by PACE clients.

In most cases, this was putting their schooling at risk.

“Often they are constantly late to school, or they don’t attend at all, due to extensive rituals before leaving the house,’’ she said.

“Some young people are not able to eat at school or in public, which is causing them social and health concerns.

“Others come to us with severe skin conditions caused by contamination OCD symptoms, such as repeatedly washing their hands.’’

In recent months, Alex has supported an older teen who worries he will hit someone in his car and  repeatedly drives laps of the block to check, while a 14-year- old is fearful of using technology.

“He wouldn’t touch the phone to speak to us or use the laptop to send an email, which made it difficult to provide him with support remotely during lockdown,’’ Alex said.

PACE expects demand for support will keep rising, especially from parents, as the new school year, combined with a metropolitan-wide lack of specialist support for OCD, exacerbates students’ stressors.

“OCD doesn’t follow logic so it can be particularly hard for parents to understand it,’’ Alex said.

“Their parenting instinct is to help when their child is hurting, so often they start to enable their behaviours. They might start cleaning things for them, or buying new clothes if their child says their wardrobe is contaminated, or they might be too strict.

“By enabling behaviours, they are prolonging the recovery process. That can be the hardest thing for parents to understand because, emotionally, it’s very difficult to say no to a child in distress.’’

PACE offers one-on-one support for parents and caregivers of children with OCD or who are struggling with repetitive behaviours.

In addition, young people aged 16 or over can attend HOPE, the only peer-led support group in Adelaide, run by PACE each fortnight from Payneham Community Centre.

*For more information about PACE supports and the HOPE group, please phone 8303 6660 or email



People struggling to cope with the chaos and fear surrounding COVID-19 can now access free phone counselling by appointment from Centacare Catholic Family Services.

In response to the health emergency, Centacare has increased capacity to provide telephone support for mental health concerns, family stress due to job loss, social isolation and other challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

People do not need a mental health care plan to access the short-term support. Rather, they can phone Centacare direct and book an appointment for a telephone counselling consultation.

Specialist Clinician Elaine Reynolds said it was crucial people did not go it alone at a time when unprecedented social measures were keeping friends and families apart, exacerbating challenges for those already at risk.

“In extreme moments like this, the options for personal control are severely limited, so there are a lot of people feeling lost, powerless and anxious,’’ Elaine said.

“The worries and what-ifs surrounding COVID-19 are enormous, and the ramifications of this can be gut-wrenching for many people.’’

People can phone Centacare between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, to make a daytime or evening appointment. The telephone counselling service is inclusive, non-judgmental and unconditional.

“Centacare wishes to offer a connection to those who seek counselling, strategies, or ways of working through individual, family or relationship issues, without having to leave their home,’’ Deputy Director Pauline Connelly said.

“In isolation with families, what once may have been an irritant can become an aggravator, and what once was a disappointment can lead to confusion and disturbance in one’s thinking.

“Seeking help early at these times, through phone counselling, can offer relief and provide a pathway to a new normal.”

To book an appointment for COVID-19 telephone counselling, please phone Centacare on 8215 6700. 


Meeting the Challenge

Centacare Catholic Family Services is a Catholic welfare organisation delivering a range of services across the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Client Services

45 Wakefield Street Adelaide SA 5000
T 08 8215 6700

Opening Hours

Monday – Tuesday | 9am – 5pm
Wednesday – Thursday | 9am – 9pm
Friday | 9am – 5pm

Quick Exit