MANY of us will feel like we know what OCD is, and some of us may even make jokey comments about being “a little OCD” from time to time – but in reality OCD is a serious issue for those who suffer with it.
Here is everything you need to know about the mental health condition, from how it presents itself to how to seek treatment.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is a severe anxiety disorder that affects 12 in every 1000 people.
The disorder doesn’t discriminate between age, race or gender and according to the charity OCD-UK, it can be so debilitating that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked OCD among the top ten when it comes to the most disabling illnesses of any kind – in terms of lost earnings and lessened quality of life.
There are two aspects to OCD – obsessions and the compulsions.
Obsessions are thoughts, ideas and urges which feel impossible to ignore by sufferers – and they can be very persistent.
Obsessions can cause a huge amount of anxiety, particularly if they are distressing thoughts about harm coming to someone you love.
On the other hand, compulsions are the ritual sufferers perform to rid themselves of the anxiety felt from the obsessive thoughts.
How will I know if I have OCD and what are the common obsessions?
Most OCD sufferers recognise that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational but they can’t stop acting on it and feel they need to do it “just in case” – this often makes it harder for them to seek help.
While OCD tends to develop slowly over a long period of time, stressful life events can also act as triggers, including bereavement, illness, a new relationship, retirement, money woes, family issues, and childhood abuse or neglect.
Sufferers find themselves in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions, and because both are involuntary it can be very hard to stop.
Common obsessions include:
- Fear of deliberately harming yourself or those around you
- Fear of harming yourself or others by mistake – eg. fear you may set the house on fire by leaving the oven on
- Fear of contamination by disease
- An urge for symmetry or order
What are the symptoms of OCD?
OCD affects different people in different ways, but usually appears as a particular pattern of behaviours.
These include four main steps:
- Obsession – where an unwanted, intrusive thought or urge repeatedly enters a person’s mind.
- Anxiety – the unwanted obsession then provokes a feeling of intense anxiety or distress.
- Compulsion – as a result of feeling anxious, a person will carry out repetitive behaviours or mental acts that they feel driven to perform to better the situation.
- Temporary relief – the compulsion will offer temporarily relief to the OCD sufferer’s anxiety – but the obsession soon returns, causing the cycle to begin again.
While it is possible to just have obsessive thoughts or just have compulsions, most sufferers will contend with both.
Common types of compulsive behaviour in people with OCD include:
- Cleaning and hand washing
- Checking – such as checking doors are locked or that the gas is off
- Ensuring order and arranging things ‘perfectly’
- Thinking “neutralising” thoughts to counter the obsessive ones
- Avoiding certain places and situations that they feel could trigger obsessive thoughts
How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder treated?
While many sufferers may be reluctant to seek help, OCD is unlikely to get better on its own.
Treatment and support is available and will manage symptoms – meaning the sufferer will be able to enjoy and improved quality of life as a result.
If you feel you are suffering with OCD, you should try and speak to a counsellor or therapist who can provide the help and support you need to regulate your compulsions and can help you understand the reasons behind your OCD.
If you need help managing your OCD without seeking outside assistance, there are a few things that can help:
Talk to someone
Seek out a trusted friend or family member to share your worries with.
Having someone close to you understand what you are going through can help you feel as though you’re not alone.
Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can help to refocus your mind and will also release feel-good endorphins – helping ease feelings of anxiety.
Read self-help guides
These can offer you with structured programmes to follow.
Relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness
Practising these can help reduce stress, which in turn, can lessen the impact of OCD symptoms.
What are the different types of OCD?
- Contamination – feeling the need to clean due to the fear of something being unclean.
- Checking – feeling the need to check things in order to prevent damage.
- Hoarding – feeling as though you can’t part with certain items – even if useless.
- Religion – feeling as though you need to recite prayers a certain amount of times to restore your faith after having anti-religious thoughts.
- Violence and sex – feeling guilty over disturbing thoughts. This type of OCD is known as ‘pure-O’ and ends with the obsessions – people with this ‘pure-O’ tend not to carry out compulsive acts.
OCD can be a difficult condition to deal with, but it is improvable and there is help on offer to those who need it.
Remember, you’re not alone and even just speaking to someone about your condition can greatly improve your quality of life.
Contact your GP or care team immediately if you ever feel you can’t go on. You can also phone the Samaritans on 116 123, or you can call one of these helplines or support groups or NHS 111.