Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder...or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.
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Of all the anxiety disorders you may be aware of, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often the most quoted, yet most misunderstood condition. As obvious as it might seem given its name, OCD breaks down into two aspects; an obsession and a compulsion. Together they form an anxiety disorder known as OCD.
You might think that, like many other mental illnesses, it's normal to become anxious over certain things. You may believe that most people would get naturally anxious if they, for example, thought they hadn't locked their front door when they've left for work and, to some degree, you'd be right. The difference is that 'most people' would be able to put their fears into context. People with OCD don't have that luxury.
They will repeatedly worry about something, so much so that it will eventually impact on their whole day, and it soon becomes an obsession. Obsessions can be fairly small details, or they can be much more serious. People with OCD may, for example, repeatedly wash their hands, insist on the need to have food labels all facing the same way or repeatedly checking appliances before they leave the house.
When it comes to compulsions, these become acts (or rituals) that are carried out in response to the fears that their obsessions can bring. Using the examples above, if the obsession is repeatedly washing their hands, this maybe from a fear of catching a disease through bacteria. If appliances need to be switched off, this can be because they believe the appliance may catch fire. Once the compulsion has been carried out, the anxiety can be temporarily eased, but no pleasure will be gleamed from it and the need to do it again soon reappears.They get stuck in an endless, often debilitating, cycle.
Those living with OCD may share similar themes when it comes to their obsessions and compulsions. These include washing and cleaning (but again, it's not only those), counting, orderliness, following strict routines they believe will help and checking (and rechecking) doors, locks, light-switches, etc. Many will agree that their obsessions and / or compulsions don't make sense, but simply can't help themselves from doing so.
Despite what you might have heard, you can't be 'a little bit OCD'. You can't be a little bit 'obsessive' or a little bit 'compulsive'. OCD is a serious condition that can't be summed up in one flippant, throw-away line.
OCD symptoms tend to appear gradually and get worse over time, to the point where it can be completely debilitating. As you may expect, most of those with OCD exhibit symptoms that are both obsessive and compulsive, but this isn't necessarily always the case.
Some people do only display obsessive symptoms whilst others can have only compulsive symptoms. Around a third of those with OCD also have a condition that involves sudden, intermittent movements or sounds which only happen briefly, but can be embarrassing for them.
For the sake of this page, we're going to break the symptoms down into two separate sections, but please bear in mind that those with OCD may exhibit both sets of symptoms.
Obsessions, in regard to OCD, are repeated, persistent or unwanted behaviours and thoughts that cause distress and / or anxiety. They often occur when you are trying to think about or do other things, they overtake your train of thought and are difficult to ignore. These obsessions aren't, as many people believe, always motivated by cleaning, although that does occur.
Obsessions can be quite benign, but can occasionally be frightening and sometimes so horrible that people are unwilling to share them with others. They include:
- Fear of being contaminated when coming into contact with other people.
- Doubting that you have locked the door or turned off electrical equipment when leaving the house.
- High levels of stress when things aren't ordered as you like them.
- Images of hurting yourself or other people.
- Avoiding situations that will trigger your obsessions, i.e. shaking hands with people or touching things used in communal areas.
Compulsions are repeating behaviours that you feel driven to perform. They will be designed to reduce your anxiety levels or prevent a situation you fear. OCD sufferers can create rituals that they believe will control their anxiety for a short period, but often don't.
Symptoms of compulsive behaviour include:
- Washing your hands so often that your skin becomes raw.
- Repeatedly checking doors, lights or on/off switches to make sure they're safe.
- Counting in certain patterns.
- Repeating a saying or phrase over and over again to yourself.
Whilst there are has been quite a lot of research into OCD, scientists are still to identify one true cause. They many never do so. It has been suggested that OCD is a genetic condition and that the passing on of certain inherited genes may affect the development of the brain, although no specific genes have been identified.
It has been observed that some (but not ALL) of those with OCD have different brain patterns than other people. Studies have shown that some people with OCD have increase brain activity and blood flow in particular areas, and also lack a chemical called serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating some of the body's functions including mood, anxiety and memory. These areas of the brain are those that deal with strong emotions and how we respond to them. This can be alleviated by CBT or SSRI medication.
OCD may be prevalent (although there is no concrete evidence) in those with a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. This can include social isolation, teasing or bullying. Some believe that stressful life events, i.e. the death of a family member, may trigger OCD symptoms. The thinking is that if, for example, a close relative dies, you may begin to fear for the safety of other living relatives. Similarly if you become seriously ill, the fear of future infections can trigger symptoms. While stress can make OCD symptoms worse, it doesn't cause the condition in itself.
If you suffer with OCD, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.
Also, if you'd like to share your experiences of living with OCD with our community so they can better understand how it feels, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.