The devastating effects of the widely misunderstood mental illness, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are being exposed this week by charity, OCD Action.
The World Health Organisation classifies OCD as one of the top ten most debilitating illnesses, yet it is often considered a mild, quirky or even amusing affliction.
OCD sufferers worry that people will think they are mad and so do not always seek help. This has led to a lack of public awareness.
“In order to be diagnosed with OCD means that the impact is very great,” says Joel Rose, Director of OCD Action. “You’re spending 5/6/7 hours a day on those compulsions.”
OCD has two parts: Obsessional thoughts and the compulsion to dampen those thoughts.
The compulsion becomes a ritual like hand washing or checking the front door. It can also be a mental routine used to stifle a feeling of anxiety or stop a particular thought.
“People get into a vicious circle, the amount of time they need to spend on the compulsion and the elaborateness of those compulsions has grown,” Joel says.
“It’s not like a psychosis where someone doesn’t know their behaviour is illogical. Someone with OCD knows that standing in front of a door for 5 hours doesn’t make sense but they’re compelled to do it.”
OCD sufferers are often intelligent, creative, caring people and try to protect themselves and their loved ones from presumed harm.
Rose explains that sometimes there is no logical connection between the obsessive thoughts and the compulsive behaviour but only an association such as counting to 30 or their parents will die of a horrible accident.
Barbara Lloyd, 49, from Wirral, who has suffered from OCD since childhood, says that the disorder is not the same as a person who can’t go near a knife because they’ll pick it up and stab someone. “Mine is a fear [about] things I do innocently
—if I was to cook I would harm someone with the food or that I would harm me because of not locking the house properly,” she says.
Barbara’s OCD is an all-encompassing version. Compelled to spend up to 7 or 8 hours checking, washing and cleaning, she then has a half an hour ritual checking switches and locks before she can leave the house, “I pull on the back door handle to the point where I think I’m going to pull the handle off.”