Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent intrusive ideas, thoughts, impulses or images (obsessions) which often result in performing compulsive rituals over and over again. Typical compulsions are washing, checking and arranging things, and counting. These actions give individuals with OCD only temporary relief from their anxiety. With early diagnosis and the right treatment, people can avoid the suffering that comes with OCD.
While worries and doubts, superstitions and rituals are common, OCD occurs when worries become obsessions, and compulsive rituals are so excessive that they dominate a person’s life. It is as if the brain is a scratched vinyl record, forever skipping at the same groove and repeating one fragment of song.
Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses or images; they are intrusive and illogical. Common OCD obsessions revolve around contamination, doubts (such as not being sure whether the lights are off or the door is locked) and disturbing sexual or religious thoughts. People with OCD may have extreme concerns about germs or they may have a terrible fear that they have harmed someone. These thoughts cannot be stopped or ignored, even though the person usually knows they are unrealistic. Often, a person’s obsessions are accompanied by feelings of fear, disgust and doubt, or the belief that certain activities have to be done in a certain manner.
People with OCD try to relieve their obsessions by performing compulsive rituals, over and over again, and often according to certain “rules”. Typical compulsions are washing, checking and arranging things, and counting. These actions give them only temporary relief from their anxiety.
Cause and Effect
OCD used to be considered the result of family troubles or attitudes learned in childhood. It is now believed that the disorder has a neurological and genetic basis. Current research into its causes focuses on the workings of the brain and the influences of personal circumstances. OCD can occur in people of all ages, but it generally begins before 40. Studies show that the disorder usually begins during adolescence or early childhood. It affects men and women equally.
People with OCD are under great stress. The intensity of their symptoms varies – at times symptoms are like background noise; at other times, they are a deafening roar. Because individuals with OCD may spend an hour or more every day carrying out rituals, their ability to conduct a balanced life is impaired and their relationships at work and home can suffer.
Coping with OCD
With early diagnosis and the right treatment, people can avoid the suffering that comes with OCD. They also have a greater chance of avoiding depression and relationship problems that often come with OCD.
Unfortunately, OCD tends to be underdiagnosed and undertreated. This is partly because many people with OCD are ashamed and secretive about their symptoms, and some do not believe they have a problem. Another factor is that many healthcare practitioners are not well informed about the condition.
Two effective treatments for OCD have been developed: medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Used together, these treatments can be effective.
The drugs used to combat OCD symptoms are those which affect levels of serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain.
Psychotherapy techniques used to combat OCD symptoms are exposure and response prevention. These involve encouraging a person to stay in contact with the object or situation that forms the obsession, and to not perform the ritual to ease the pressure of that obsession. Depending on the intensity of the therapy, improvement may be seen within 2 or more months.
Support and Understanding are Vital
People with OCD feel severe stress, as do their loved ones. Knowing how to support a family member or friend with OCD begins with educating yourself about the disorder. This will give you the confidence to help them to understand that there are treatments which can help.
If you have OCD, it is important to be aware that doubts and discomfort during treatment are normal. Work with your doctor to adjust medication, and don’t hesitate to ask for second opinions about cognitive-behavioural therapy. It can help to know that, once you get your OCD under control, keeping it there is easier.
Children with OCD Have Special Needs
Many adults diagnosed with OCD report that their symptoms begin in childhood. Coping with embarrassing compulsions and trying to hide them from friends and family can place great stress on a child.
Children with OCD appear to be more likely to have additional psychiatric problems. They may suffer from conditions such as panic disorder or social phobia, depression, learning disorders, tic disorders, disruptive behaviour disorders and body dysmorphic disorder (imagined ugliness).
Cognitive-behaviour therapy can help a child gain relief from OCD symptoms. Medication is generally given to children only when CBT has not achieved the desired results.
For further information about obsessive-compulsive disorder, contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to find out about support and resources available in your community.