The ABC of OCD

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OCD: Some sufferes feel the compulsion to wash their hands a certain number of times.

OCD: Some sufferers feel the compulsion to wash their hands over and over. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Milton’s first memories of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are from when he was ten years old.  He remembers sitting on the floor with the compulsion to put a Lego block in his mouth in the attempt to swallow it, hoping he might choke.

Now he’s 46 years-old and draws on his struggles with OCD to help others an an ambassador for The Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria.

OCD affects between two and four per cent of Australians.  It’s severity can vary, for chronic sufferers it can seriously impact their ability to lead fulfilling lives.

The obsessive compulsiveness stems from persistent, intrusive and distressing thoughts, images or urges that enter the mind. It can be classified as a mental illness and an emotional disorder that can be triggered at any time during one’s life.

Milton says realising he was gay was his trigger, “I was fraught with renouncing thoughts about my sexuality, I was scared I would go to hell for being gay and conflicted by the suicidal thoughts I was having because that would send me to hell too.”

In his late teens Milton became an alcoholic, while seeking treatment for his addiction, his OCD was also diagnosed.

“For years there was a great lack of understanding and support in the health system for OCD sufferers, while progress is being made with groups like ARCVIC, I believe the human element in treatment for more extreme cases is still missing,” asserts Milton.

Milton has sought a number of therapies and treatments over the years but still battles daily with the illness.

“My compulsions range from contamination concerns, repeatedly checking to see if my fly is done up and when I’m driving,” says Milton.

Anxious about the safety of others or being left with a flat battery, he admits to repeatedly checking the park brake is on and the interior light is off before exiting the car.

He also acknowledges his OCD can make communication and relationships difficult, “I can ask the same question over and over, it’s like my brain doesn’t hear the answer the first time. Sometimes I say nothing, to avoid that repetitive loop,” confesses Milton.

Milton believes OCD is an illness that deserves greater awareness to assist in lifting the stigma, “I know I will struggle with my OCD for the rest of my life however since working with ARCVIC and being able to share my story with other sufferers I have felt an overwhelming sense of worthiness that I’ve never had,” says Milton.

Clinical psychologist, Dr Alison Mahoney, works at the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, specialising in OCD.

“There’s no definitive answer for what causes OCD, however a number of biological, genetic, chemical and environmental factors can contribute to activating the illness,” Mahoney says.

She explains symptoms of OCD can include; repetitive or obsessive thoughts or ritualistic behaviours such as; checking, touching, hoarding.

The person uses these behaviours as coping mechanisms in an attempt to reduce the focus from what they’re worrying about.

If you are living with someone with OCD, Mahoney recommends education; “you can be of great support, when you understand what OCD is. However while you think they need help, they might not want it, so gentle encouragement goes a long way.”

“There are many ways to treat OCD; medication, books, and a wide range of different therapies and programs that can help,” says Mahoney. “Be supportive but don’t be an enabler, try not to involve yourself in the compulsion or obsessive behaviour.”

Mahoney recommends OCD is best diagnosed by a mental health professional or GP qualified in the area.

While there is no cure for OCD, Mahoney stresses, “a number of options are available to significantly improve quality of life, reduce anxiety and assist with making the illness more manageable. Combined with a great support network, people who suffer from OCD can certainly regain control of their lives, there is no need to suffer in silence!”

*Dr Alison Mahoney is the author of a new program for Australians suffering from OCD. From August 2013, this online program will be accessible nation-wide to all Australian’s that suffer from OCD. To register for the program email or for more information on OCD contact 1800 18SANE (1800 187263).

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