OCD – What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (also known as OCD) is a type of mental health condition that approximately 1.2% of Britons suffer from. It is a term often used colloquially to mean someone who is very fussy about things being a certain way, or an alternate term for a perfectionist, but in reality it is a serious condition that can have a very large impact on a person’s life.

This article will explain what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is, outline its symptoms, and provide information on the treatment of the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects people across both sexes and all ages, although it typically manifests itself around early adulthood. Ordinarily the condition causes a specific pattern of thoughts and behaviours to develop within the individual. The pattern consists of four steps:

  1. Obsession: An unwanted, intrusive, or otherwise anxiety inducing image or desire repeatedly enters the mind
  2. Anxiety: An intense feeling of anxiety or discomfort arises due to the obsession
  3. Compulsion: Repetitive behaviours or mental acts are performed out of a compulsive drive to do so; this arises from the anxiety
  4. Temporary Relief: The compulsive behaviour temporarily relieves you of your anxiety. However, the obsession soon returns, starting the cycle anew

In some cases, only obsessions or compulsions will occur. But this is very uncommon, and most people will suffer from both.

What is classed as obsessions and compulsions is also important for making a proper analysis of obsessive compulsive disorder. Obsessive thoughts are just like the worries or disturbing thoughts appearing in the minds of others; it can range from feeling like you forgot to lock a window, that you didn’t set the heating properly before you left for work, or the thoughts may be of a sexual or violent nature.

They are considered ‘obsessive’ when they begin to interrupt other thoughts, are persistent, and create anxiety. Likewise, they are considered serious if you believe they are genuinely leading yourself or others to danger, either because you believe you will do something or that something is going to happen (like contamination, for example).

Compulsions come from trying to reduce the anxiety associated with the obsessive thought, even if the compulsive act is in no way able to affect the cause of anxiety in reality. Compulsive behaviours are often not obvious to outside observers, as they can be passed off as normal things or simple ‘quirks’ of character. Compulsions can take a variety of forms, but often manifest themselves in the following ways:

  • Hoarding
  • Excessive hand-washing
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Thinking ‘neutral’ thoughts in order to try and counter obsessive ones
  • Repeating words or phrases to oneself
  • Checking things such as locks, switches, and lights
  • Counting or ordering things in specific arrangements      

In addition to the above, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder oftentimes develop other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, or hoarding disorder. This is why it is important to get help with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, since mental health issues will just make each other progressively worse.

OCD – What Treatments are available for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Whilst Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is very unlike to improve by itself, it is possible to get it treated. Depending on the severity of associated symptoms, one of two options is open for someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The first of these is therapy. Normally used for the more mild manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a method of therapy wherein the patient works towards changing the way they think about things, so that changes in their behaviour will follow.

This is often combined with a technique known as Exposure and Response Prevention; the patient is encouraged to allow their obsessive thoughts come to pass without acting on the compulsion, working up from those things which cause the least anxiety up to the most debilitating of obsessions.

This is a critical component of the process, as it allows the patient to prove to themselves that they needn’t worry about things in a manner that is controlled so as to avoid any unintended consequences that might just reinforce the anxiety.

For the more severe cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, your doctor may decide to prescribe medication. This will be done if your symptoms are severe, or if therapies have been demonstrated to not be helping.

The medications given to help treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which work by preventing the brain from reabsorbing a chemical called serotonin.

Since serotonin is what makes us feel happy and generally positive, having more of it in the brain works to improve mood, and thus alleviate the anxiety stemming from obsessions.

It also treats the depression that can stem from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder too. However all medications like this can have serious side effects, and are addictive if used too much. It is therefore particularly important that you follow all instructions from the doctor if you are prescribed these medicines.

In the most extreme and rare cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a patient may be referred to a national specialist service for the condition.

At Tutorcare we offer a number of Awareness courses focusing on disorders. The subject matter of this article is covered in our OCD Awareness course, while ADHD is discussed in an article here – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Further Reading:

The NHS website is a very good source of information for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and their pages contain links to other relevant aspects such as detailed information about the medications and therapies prescribed for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

Many people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder find help from support groups, which you can find through a charity such as OCD Action: t