Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health problem typically characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsions. It is a common condition that can affect men, women as well as children. Symptoms can start at around puberty, but are more likely to develop in early adulthood. The symptoms of OCD can range from being mild to severe, in some cases causing a significant amount of distress and interfering with a person’s daily activities such as their work and relationships with others. It is unknown what causes OCD; however, research has shown that a number of different factors may contribute to one developing this condition, including genetics, stressful life events, and people with anxious personality types.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
A person with OCD will usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. An obsession is described as “an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease”. A compulsion can be better defined as “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” (NHS, 2019). To put it in more practical terms, a person with OCD may have an intense fear of being contaminated, and may therefore repetitively wash their hands several times per day so as to avoid becoming contaminated. While a person with OCD typically experiences both obsessions and compulsions, it is possible to only have obsession symptoms or compulsion symptoms.
Obsessions and compulsions usually revolve around themes. The themes of obsessive thinking can include, but are not limited to: fear of contamination, the need for things to be orderly and symmetrical, as well as unwanted thoughts of an aggressive or sexual nature. This could result in a person experiencing intense stress when shaking hands with someone or touching items that other people may have touched, or experiencing images of oneself being aggressive towards others in public. Compulsions typically also revolve around similar themes as above, where the person may engage in behaviours such as checking that doors are locked, counting in certain patterns, or repeating certain words or phrases. These rituals usually provide short-term relief to help control one’s anxiety when experiencing obsessive thoughts, however over time may become excessive and take up a lot of a person’s time and mental energy.
Getting professional help for OCD
It may feel embarrassing or shameful to talk about experiencing symptoms of OCD, however reaching out for support and getting the correct treatment can greatly improve one’s life and make OCD more manageable to live with. If you feel that you, or a person that you may know could be suffering from OCD, it might be beneficial to talk to a professional about this. You may want to start by talking to a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist to help you manage the symptoms of OCD. Throughout the course of therapy, your therapist will support you in exploring the nature of your fears or obsessive thoughts, so as to decrease the need to engage in compulsions. Some people may require medication to effectively help them to treat OCD. A psychiatrist may prescribe medication that helps to control the obsessions and compulsions related to OCD. In some cases, it may also be effective to undergo therapy as well as take medication at the same time.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Pamela Borg is a counsellor who enjoys working therapeutically with adults experiencing various issues. These include general mental health and wellbeing, gender, sexuality, relationship issues.
Mayo Clinic (2020). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432
NHS (2019). Overview – Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/overview/