Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder, characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
If you have OCD you will experience frequent unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that feel uncontrollable. To reduce the anxiety and distress this experience causes, you feel you need to carry out compulsive, repetitive behaviours or mental thoughts.
For example, you may wish to wash your hands because you feel they are dirty, becoming anxious that it must be done (the obsessive thought). To reduce this anxiety, you washing your hands (the compulsion).
The severity of OCD has great scope. It can be slight and not interfere too much with everyday life, but can also be extremely severe and thus take over everyday life. Sufferers may try to resist or ignore an obsession, but this can lead to high levels of anxiety and stress until the obsession is acted upon.
Some examples of obsessions are:
Some examples of compulsions are:
OCD can affect individuals of all genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages. It is estimated that between 1-3% of the population have OCD.
The common onset of OCD is early adulthood before the age of 25 years. It is less common for OCD symptoms to emerge after this point.
There are many known causes of OCD and a range of models that can be used to understand its development. In many cases of OCD, there are a number of contributing factors that can lead to its development.
Negative life experiences may contribute to the development of OCD, including physical illness, loss of a loved one, war experience, overprotection, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and other traumas. If these experiences are left emotionally unresolved, this can often lead to mental ill health.
OCD can also be linked with other mental health issues, including depression, other anxiety disorders, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, and substance misuse. This supports the idea that OCD can be connected to underlying issues and past experiences.
Environmental factors may also enhance an existing anxiety problem such as poor social support and stress.
Most individuals will have experience slighter variations of the symptoms of OCD, such as unwanted thoughts or a sense of order and organisation. However, this does not become obsessive or compulsive for many.
Despite this link existing between sufferers and non-sufferers, there are many misunderstandings about OCD among the general public. Some people may find compulsions to be unnecessary, such as checking a door is locked 5 times. However, it is important to understand that without checking the door is locked 5 times, the individual with OCD may feel extremely anxious.
Criticisms, impatience, and generally negative comments will not be helpful to those with OCD. It is important to remember that the individual has OCD for a reason and that it is a mental health problem. Individuals do not choose to develop OCD and many cannot imagine life without their anxiety disorder.
It is also important to not normalise compulsions by helping an OCD sufferer in their rituals or routines. Encouraging the individual to seek treatment is often the most effective way to help a person with OCD.
People with OCD may also feel ashamed and embarrassed about their condition and thus find it difficult to discuss with others.
The UK diagnostic system (ICD-10) suggest for a diagnosis, ‘obsessive symptoms and/or compulsive acts must be present on most days for at least 2 successive weeks and be a source of distress or interference with activities'.
The obsessive symptoms should have the following characteristics:
● They must be recognized as the individual's own thoughts or impulses.
● There must be at least one thought or act that is still resisted unsuccessfully, even though others may be present which the sufferer no longer resists.
● The thought of carrying out the act must not in itself be pleasurable (simple relief of tension or anxiety is not regarded as pleasure in this sense.)
● The thoughts, images, or impulses must be unpleasantly repetitive.
Discussions have also focussed on whether behaviours such as nail biting, hair pulling (Trichotillomania), or scab picking (Dermatillomania) should be classified as OCD.
If OCD is left untreated, symptoms of the condition may worsen and other mental health problems may develop. OCD can lead to significant difficulties in relation to an individual’s interpersonal relationships, occupation, and everyday functioning. OCD can become more severe over time without treatment, with more rituals and routines developing. Individuals suffering with symptoms should seek help and not delay treatment.
Treatment for OCD has a high success rate. Research, experiments, and clinical practice have led to the development of many evidence-based treatments that can result in an alleviation of symptoms and improvement in mental health.
Research suggests that the best approach to treatment for OCD is almost always psychology based. Anti-anxiety medication can ease symptoms in some cases, but some suggest that they do not alleviate the problem and are therefore not an effective treatment exclusively.
Because OCD often impacts on families and carers, interventions may be more effective when involving families and carers in the recovery process.
Treatment for OCD has a high success rate and there are many evidence-based treatments available. Many people benefit from one or a combination of these approaches:
Individuals with OCD can try self-control methods to help ease their anxieties. Test yourself so that when you experience obsessions or urges, you can shift your behaviour to something other than the desired compulsion.
Examples of self-control methods include:
● Playing a game
● Playing an instrument
● Making a phone call
Carry out the method of self-control for as long as possible. Practising these self-control methods to distract yourself and delay or avoid the compulsion may be a helpful step to take.
When you feel ready to seek help, there are many ways in which to access support and advice. Trained professionals will be able to support you, including psychotherapists, psychiatrists, counsellors, and psychologists.
Here are details of available services:
The NHS - visiting your GP and requesting a referral to meet with a specialist.
Charities - (including MIND, Young Minds, the Mental Health Foundation, and Rethink) these organisations can provide access to therapy, support groups, and advice within your local area. See their websites for more details and information.
Counselling and psychotherapy clinics and services - search online directories like this one or contact your local council for a list of organisations that can provide therapeutic help.
We’re here to help you book therapy for OCD online with leading psychotherapists and counsellors at times and costs that suit you, anywhere in the world.
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