Obsessive compulsive disorder: What it is and the signs to look out for

Inset: Martin Furber provides a weekly column on mental health and well-being | Main image credit: Canva i(Image: Canva)/i

You may hear, in some day-to-day conversations, people using expressions such as “oh she’s a bit OCD” or “they’re a bit ADHD” when referring to someone’s habits or behaviour.

These are terms which can be sometimes bandied around lightly. To someone who is actually affected by these conditions, they are no laughing matter, and such comments are not helpful. In fact, they can be very hurtful.

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as the name would suggest, this is when someone suffers with obsessive thoughts and a compulsion to repeat behaviours.

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Obsessions such as repeated, unwelcome thoughts and images, doubts and worries about ourselves or others are typical. These intrusive thoughts can seem very real and can cause a great deal of anxiety.

Thoughts can range from a fear of touching things or shaking hands with someone because of germs etc to a fear of being unable to control our actions or indeed, a need to be in control of every situation.

The sufferer can develop the urge to do things compulsively to eliminate anxiety and distress. It can involve having to do such things as repeatedly scrubbing our hands to the extreme until they literally bleed, to going around and checking the light switches 28 times before going to bed.

There is a huge difference between someone who routinely double-checks most things they do before leaving the house and someone who could take four hours checking and re-checking everything repeatedly before setting foot out of the door.

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The compulsions can become so intense that the rituals someone feels they need to perform can take up all their time in a day, leaving no time or energy to do other things. This can lead to further anxiety, depression and withdrawal from day-to-day life.

The thoughts and compulsions can be extremely distressing to those who have them and to those around them. Only a fully qualified medical professional can diagnose such conditions and advise on the type of treatment needed in each case.

Often, both medication and therapy will play a dual role in helping someone to manage their condition.

Some people who prior to Covid had obsessions about germs and the compulsion to continually wash their hands have had their symptoms worsened by the pandemic and the associated instructions for us to wash our hands frequently.

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As with many aspects of mental health and well-being, it is good for all of us to have some understanding of conditions which may be affecting our loved ones or colleagues. I will cover some of the aspects of ADHD and adult ADHD in a later column.

Next week I am going to be taking a look at how menopause can affect mental health and offering some useful tips on dealing with it. I will be including advice from some female doctor colleagues.

If you feel you are in a mental health crisis or emergency and may be in danger of causing harm to yourself or others then please contact your GP, Samaritans on 116 123 or attend AE.