Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
OCD can affect men, women and children. Some people start having symptoms early, often around puberty, but it usually starts during early adulthood.
OCD can be distressing and significantly interfere with your life, but treatment can help you keep it under control.
Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
If you have OCD, you'll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
- An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
- A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
For example, someone with an obsessive fear of being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave their house.
With the current Coronavirus crisis, some people with OCD are likely to develop an obsessional fear that they are contaminated with the virus and/or have passed this on to a significant other. This may lead to compulsive behaviours such as excessive cleaning or handwashing.
Women can sometimes have OCD during pregnancy or after their baby is born. Obsessions may include worrying about harming the baby or not sterilising feeding bottles properly. Compulsions could be things such as repeatedly checking the baby is breathing.
Getting help for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
People with OCD are often reluctant to seek help because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.
OCD is a health condition like any other, so there's nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Having OCD does not mean you're "mad" and it's not your fault you have it.
There are 2 main ways to get help:
- refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service.
- See your GP who can advise on different treatments including medication and talking therapies.
If you think a friend or family member may have OCD, try talking to them about your concerns and suggest they get help.
It's unlikely OCD will get better without proper treatment and support.
Treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
There are some effective treatments for OCD that can help reduce the impact it has on your life.
The main treatments are:
- Psychological Therapy - usually cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without "putting them right" through compulsions.
- Medication – usually a type of antidepressant drug called selective serotonins reuptake inhibitors SSRI. These drugs are commonly used to treat depression but in high doses they can reduce the impact of obsessional thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
CBT will usually have an effect quite quickly. It can take several months before you notice the effects of treatment with SSRIs, but most people will eventually benefit.
The most effective treatment is likely to be a combination of medication and CBT.
Some people may be referred to a specialist mental health service for further treatment.
Causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
It's not clear what causes OCD. A number of different factors may play a part, including:
- family history – you're more likely to develop OCD if a family member has it, possibly because of your genes
- differences in the brain – some people with OCD have areas of unusually high activity in their brain or low levels of a chemical called serotonin
- life events – OCD may be more common in people who have been bullied, abused or neglected, and it sometimes starts after an important life event, such as childbirth or a bereavement.
- personality – neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop OCD, also people who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others.
- As part of another condition, for example severe depression or Tourette’s syndrome.
Living with OCD can be difficult. In addition to getting medical help, you might find it helps to contact a support group or other people with OCD for information and advice.
The following websites may be useful sources of support:
Copyright April 2020 Janet Meehan, Janet Meehan & Partners.