Everybody has worrisome thoughts once in a while, but constantly thinking about upsetting thoughts or urges to the point where they interfere with normal everyday activities is a problem. A person with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (called OCD for short) experiences troubling thoughts very frequently; more so than the average person. Read on to learn more about OCD.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is the name of a group of symptoms that affect a person’s thoughts and behaviors. Obsessive thoughts are frequent disturbing and upsetting thoughts, ideas, or urges that cause feelings of anxiety or stress.
Some examples of obsessive thoughts include:
- Fear of germs or getting sick (e.g. shaking hands, entering certain buildings, using public transportation)
- Doubts and worries about finishing an action (e.g. “Did I lock the front door?” “Did I answer all of the questions on my test?”)
- Worry that something bad is going to happen to you or to a loved one
- Distress when certain objects are out of order
- Aggressive thoughts and urges (for example; thinking about walking into traffic, about shouting curse words in a quiet place, or about hurting loved ones)
Compulsions are behaviors that are done over and over again. A person acts out these behaviors to get rid of the anxiety caused by upsetting thoughts. A person may believe that by acting out a behavior they will prevent something bad from happening. The behaviors may eventually become automatic and occur without distressing thoughts.
Someone with OCD may repeat actions or mental acts several times an hour or day.
Some examples of compulsive behavior include:
- Hand washing over and over
- Touching objects in a specific order or number of times
- Cleaning and changing clothes frequently
- Checking door locks, sink faucets, and/or light switches
- Counting to make sure objects are grouped evenly
- Asking for approval repeatedly
- Praying again and again
- Repeating words or numbers in silence
- Spending so much time looking at pornography that it interferes with normal activities
Do a lot of people have OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is more common than you may think. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults. It strikes men and women in roughly equal numbers and usually appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children, and research indicates that OCD might run in families.”
How does someone get OCD?
- A person may be more likely to have OCD if their parent(s) or close family members have it
- Certain chemicals in the brain (such as serotonin) may be linked to OCD
How do I know if I have OCD?
Someone with OCD may:
- Have thoughts running through their head every day that won’t stop
- Feel like they don’t have control over certain behaviors
- Be stressed or upset if they are not able to finish routines
- Fight with their family or loved ones because of extra time needed to complete compulsive routines
If you have any of the symptoms listed above and you’re concerned about OCD, talk to a parent, health care provider, school counselor, therapist, or other trusted adult about your concerns.
What problems can OCD cause?
For folks who struggle with OCD, thoughts and behaviors can take up hours of their day. These thoughts and/or behaviors are upsetting, tiring, and unwanted. Attempting to stop behaviors may initially cause more feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear.
Some problems that OCD may cause include:
- Relationship problems – behaviors and thoughts may interfere with relationships
- School and work problems – it may be hard to concentrate on school or work because of constant thoughts
- Emotional problems – having unwanted thoughts/urges can make a person feel anxious or depressed
How is OCD treated?
There are a number of kinds of successful treatments for OCD.
- Therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is thought to be the most effective kind of therapy for OCD, but there are other kinds of therapy as well. In CBT, a counselor will help you learn new ways to think and behave, to avoid OCD thoughts and actions.
- Medication: Certain medicines can also be helpful in treating OCD.
- Combination of Medication and therapy
A mental health clinician can recommend the best type of therapy for you.
Kant, J., Franklin, M., and Wasmer Andrews, L. (2008). The Thought that Counts: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager’s Experience with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Oxford University Press