Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where a person has recurrent and unwanted ideas or impulses (called obsessions) and an urge or compulsion to do something to relieve the discomfort caused by the obsession. The obsessive thoughts range from the idea of losing control, to themes surrounding religion or keeping things or parts of one’s body clean all the time. Compulsions are behaviors that help reduce the anxiety surrounding the obsessions. Most people (90%) who have OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. The thoughts and behaviors a person with OCD has are senseless, repetitive, distressing, and sometimes harmful, but they are also difficult to overcome. OCD is more common than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet, it is still commonly overlooked by mental health professionals, mental health advocacy groups, and people who themselves have the problem. Many people still carry the misperception that they somehow caused themselves to have these compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth. OCD is likely the cause of a number of intertwined and complex factors which include genetics, biology, personality development, and how a person learns to react to the environment around them. What scientists today do know is that it is not a sign of a character flaw or a personal weakness. OCD is a serious mental disorder, which is more treatable than ever. Without the appropriate treatment, it affects a person’s ability to function in everyday activities, one’s work, one’s family, and one’s social life.

Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessions

Persistent thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate, and cause marked anxiety or distress

  • Fear of being contaminated by germs/dirt or to other
  • Fear of causing harm to self or others
  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
  • Excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky
Compulsions

Overwhelming urges to repeat certain behaviors or mental acts

  • Excessive double-checking of things
  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they are safe
  • Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
  • Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning
  • Ordering or arranging things
  • Praying excessively or engaging in rituals

Treatment

Help is available for OCD in the form of medication and specific forms of psychotherapy (e.g., Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for OCD). Consultation with a psychiatrist and a psychologist or social worker with expertise in CBT are recommended first steps.

Others

Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that worsen during times of stress are quite normally experienced by many people, and are not necessarily a sign of OCD. The tendency to become obsessed with ideas or to compulsively pursue organization and ordering tasks are valued personality features in a variety of detail-oriented fields, including accounting, computer programming and scientific research. True OCD is an extreme condition diagnosed only when obsessions and compulsions cause significant impairment in a person’s ability to work or meet other important responsibilities (such as when a person is unable to get to work on time because she is spending over an hour checking to see that her door is locked).

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