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Understanding OCD -Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, OCD will affect about 2.3% of the population in 2022. That’s about 1 in 40 people. OCD is a serious mental illness that can cause significant problems in a person’s life if left untreated. Symptoms of OCD can include excessive hand-washing, fear of contamination, hyper-vigilance, and repetitive behaviors such as counting or tapping. OCD can be debilitating, making it difficult for sufferers to work or even leave the house. If you think you or someone you know might have OCD, please seek professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential for managing the condition and helping people lead normal, productive lives.

Is OCD Accurately Portrayed?

Like most conditions, you can’t really rely on media produced sources for OCD.  The depiction of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has been watered down to a simple “Neat Freak” personification if you will.  It is trendy to have OCD, it’s in and the latest fad.  A lack of media coverage of mental disorders is undeniable.  Among the reasons for this is the stigma attached to mental illness, which makes people hesitant to discuss it openly.  There are a number of negative consequences that can result from this lack of accurate representation.  Firstly, it reinforces the idea that mental illness does not affect “normal” people. The lack of understanding and support from family, friends, and society can make it difficult for those suffering from OCD or other mental disorders. Additionally, it can perpetuate harmful stereotypes, such as that all people with OCD are neat freaks or dangerous. 

There’s also a sense that mental illness doesn’t make for “good” television or cinema.  Mental health can be difficult to depict realistically, and often ends up being portrayed in a sensationalized or stereotyped way.  There are also trends in the media where having OCD is cool.  Wanting to have your closet, clothing, kitchen, bathroom etc. a certain way.  Arranging things by color and other items in close detail.  While some of these are symptoms, they are by no means a diagnosis for OCD.  This very serious mental health condition is not a fad or a trend, but something to be taken with caution as many with legit OCD are just sincerely trying to be free.

The stigma surrounding mental illness also makes it difficult for it to be presented in “good” television and cinema.  It is difficult to portray mental health in a realistic manner, and often the subject is sensationalized or stereotyped. It is imperative that OCD be taken seriously by family, support, friends, etc. and to be taken with caution as many with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are just sincerely trying to be free.

Defining Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is defined as a mental health disorder that is characterized by persistent and intrusive thoughts, emotions, or impulses that are experienced as distressing and cause significant impairment in daily functioning. 

Individuals with OCD will often engage in repetitive behaviors or mental rituals in an attempt to reduce the anxiety associated with these thoughts. OCD can have a profound impact on an individual’s quality of life, and it is estimated that 1-2% of the population will suffer from this disorder at some point in their lives. While there is no cure for OCD, there are effective treatments available that can help people manage their symptoms and live full and productive lives.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the statistics for OCD in 2022 are expected to be as follows: The prevalence of OCD will be 1.2% in the United States, which is about 3.3 million people.  This number includes both children and adults. Of those 3.3 million people, it is estimated that 1 million will be children, and 2.3 million will be adults.  It is also estimated that about half of all cases of OCD will be considered severe.

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What Causes OCD?

Although the exact cause of OCD is unknown, it is thought to be a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors. For example, people with a parent or sibling with OCD are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. And stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or abuse, can trigger OCD symptoms.  OCD can be a debilitating condition that significantly interferes with someone’s daily life. But with treatment, most people with OCD can get their symptoms under control and live relatively normal lives.

 

Some research suggests that OCD may be triggered by a traumatic or stressful life event. Other studies have found that certain personality traits, such as perfectionism or a need for control, may put people at greater risk of developing OCD.  There is also evidence to suggest that OCD may have a neurological basis. Some people with OCD may have abnormalities in certain brain regions or a difference in the way their brains process information.

Diagnosing OCD

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OCD is typically diagnosed by a mental health professional using a clinical interview and psychological testing. The clinician will ask questions about the person’s symptoms and their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with the symptoms. The clinician will also ask about the person’s family history and any other psychiatric disorders they may have. OCD is diagnosed when the person has persistent and intrusive thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are associated with significant distress or impairment in functioning.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is diagnosed when a person has obsessions and compulsions that are severe enough to be disruptive to their daily life. The diagnosis is made by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, after taking a comprehensive psychiatric history and conducting a clinical interview. 

Although Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has no definite cure, there are available treatments that have successfully helped individuals with this disorder and have been able to move forward with their lives.

Do I Have OCD?

Before you even begin dwelling in the possibility of being diagnosed with this disorder, there are different types of OCD, but all share the common feature of intrusive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) followed by compulsions (repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to do in order to relieve anxiety). 

Checking: The individual has persistent doubts about whether they have completed an action correctly, such as turning off the oven or locking the door. This can lead to compulsive checking behaviors, such as repeatedly checking the locks or appliances. Others such as:

  • Reassurance
  • Past memories
  • Door locks and/or windows
  • House/office alarm
  • Gas or electric stove knobs
  • Water taps
  • Car
  • Electrical appliances
  • House lights and candles
  • Emails or letters
  • Checking with a camera
  • Illness and conditions
  • Re-reading text
  • Valuable items (wallet, purse, phone)

2. Contamination/Mental Contamination:

The individual is obsessed with germs, dirt, and other contaminants. They may wash their hands excessively or avoid touching objects for fear of contamination. They may also have mental contamination fears, such as believing that their thoughts are contaminated and will cause harm to others.

  • Public toilets
  • Chemicals
  • Shaking hands
  • Door Handles
  • Public Telephones
  • Eating in public locations
  • Staircase banisters
  • Sex
  • Crowds
  • Money
  • Clothes and Dead Skin
  • Bathroom
  • Teeth Brushing
  • Outside Air
  • Places

3. Hoarding:

The individual has an intense need to save items and is unwilling to get rid of anything, even if it is no longer needed or used.  This can lead to significant clutter in the home and difficulty completing daily tasks.  Some items that can be hoarded include but are not limited to:

  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Books
  • Clothes
  • Leaflets and letters, including junk mail
  • Containers
  • Boxes
  • Household supplies
  • Some people may also hoard animals, which they may not be able to look after properly

4. Rumination/Intrusive Thoughts

The individual has recurrent, intrusive thoughts that are unwanted and often disturbing.  These may be about harm coming to oneself or others, catastrophic events, or taboo subjects such as sex or violence. The individual may try to suppress these thoughts or engage in compulsive behaviors in an attempt to neutralize them. These deep thoughts can includeReligion

  • Philosophical
  • Life & Death 
  • Sex
  • Morality

Unless you can confidently identify with the above information, it might be safe to say you are fine.  If you do in fact find yourself identifying with the information above, it might be time to seek help

I Need Help, But Don’t Know Where To Start

Generally, the first step to seeking help is accepting that you may need some help.  So good job, you are here.  There are a variety of different Treatments available for OCD, it depends on the individual to determine which one would benefit them the most.  Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is one of the most common OCD treatments.  This treatment involves gradually exposing the person to their feared situation or object, without them engaging in their usual compulsive behaviors.  Over time, this can help to reduce the fear and anxiety associated with the situation or object.  Another is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another common OCD treatment.  This treatment focuses on helping the person to change their thinking patterns and beliefs about their OCD.  This can help to reduce the anxiety and distress associated with the condition.  Medication is also sometimes used as a treatment for OCD.  Commonly prescribed medications include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help to reduce the symptoms of OCD.  There are many more ways to find treatment, let’s get you started on your journey to recovery.