Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

You’ve had a long day and you decide to retire for the night, when suddenly you realize that you may have left the front door unlocked. You become anxious and go check if it is locked. Once you’ve ensured that it’s locked, you relax and return to bed. This regular anxiety is good for you as it ensures that you’re alert about your environment.

Sometimes, however, these thoughts can be recurring and intrusive. You may go check the door and ensure that it’s locked but when you return to bed, you start to worry about it again. You go check the door again and return to bed but your worry still remains. These recurring thoughts, which make you feel anxious all the time and affect your daily life in the process, are known as obsessions. Obsessions can vary; some people are obsessed with cleanliness and may worry that their hands are germ-infested even if they washed them less than a minute ago.

People with OCD experience severe anxiety and distress. To relieve this anxiety, they perform some repetitive acts known as compulsions.

Compulsions offer temporary relief to people suffering from OCD. In severe cases, the urge to perform such actions repeatedly can severely hamper a person’s daily life activities. When this cyclical occurrence of obsessions followed by the compulsive behavior begins to hamper a person's ability to cope with daily life, it may be a case of OCD.  

What are the symptoms of OCD?

OCD can be detected by observing the compulsive behavior of a person. The most common types of symptoms are:

  • Cleanliness:People who have a constant fear of contamination; they repeatedly wash their hands and clean the house.

  • Order: Some people are obsessed with symmetry and order. To relieve their anxiety they can be seen rearranging books, cutlery, or aligning carpets, pillows and cushions, repeatedly.

  • Hoarding: People who find it impossible to dispose of anything. They collect old newspapers, clothes, mails, and other objects for no apparent reason.

  • Counting: Such people repeatedly count their belongings and other objects used in daily life, such as the number of steps on a staircase, or number of lights in a hallway. If they lose count, they go back and start again.

  • Safety: Some people have irrational fears about safety; they are constantly checking whether the doors and windows are secure, whether the stove has been turned off, and so on.

If you observe such behavior in any person you know, you can try speaking to them and encouraging them to meet a mental health professional for help.

What causes OCD?

 Although it is not clear as to what causes OCD, some known factors are:

  • Genetic factors: OCD can sometimes be inherited from the parent.

  • Biological/neurological factors: Some research links the development of OCD to a chemical imbalance of serotonin in the brain.

  • Life changes: Sometimes, major life changes such as a new job or the birth of a child thrust more responsibility on a person. This can trigger OCD.

  • Behavioral factors: People who are extremely organized, neat, meticulous and those who like to be in charge from a young age, sometimes run the risk of developing OCD.

  • Personal experience: A person who has experienced severe trauma is likely to be affected with OCD. For instance, contracting a severe rash by touching rat poison in the house, can lead to hand-washing compulsions.   

Getting treatment for OCD

Treatment for OCD has been found to be very effective, and most people who receive treatment recover completely. Depending on the severity of OCD, treatments range from a variety of medications to therapies. In mild cases, it has been found that therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alone are sufficient. In more severe cases, medication is prescribed; antidepressants are commonly prescribed to help with relieving anxiety.

Caring for someone with OCD

Being around someone with OCD can sometimes be frustrating. It is important to remember that the person is not trying to be a burden but are merely trying to cope with their anxiety as best as they can. It would be advisable to talk to them about getting help; this can be challenging and will require patience, as most people do not believe they need help, and in some cases people with OCD feel a sense of shame regarding their obsessions. You can play an active role in helping a person recover from the problem; this may include encouraging them to face their fears from time to time. However, the first step must be to seek professional help.

Looking after yourself

Talking to someone you trust can go a long way in helping you cope with OCD. It can help reduce the fear associated with your obsessions considerably. Physical activity, for instance, playing a sport can boost your mental wellbeing and helps you avoid intrusive thoughts. The most important thing you can do to help yourself is to reach out to a mental health professional. Aside from your regular treatment, they will be of great help in drawing up an action plan for you to cope with OCD.