OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Some people are more neat and tidier than others naturally but someone who suffers with obsessive compulsive disorder takes neatness to the next step, to an extreme degree. A sufferer will spend many hours tidying, cleaning, checking and re-checking that objects are in order etc to the point of it interfering with their everyday lives.

An obsession is a recurring thought, idea or image that although not making a lot of sense will continue to intrude on your mind. An example may be the thought of leaving your door unlocked, you recognize this fear as irrational but you cannot get it out of your mind, hence you repeatedly check and re-check that the door is locked.

A compulsion is the ritual you perform to dismiss the anxiety which has been brought on by the obsession. An example would be washing your hands continuously to dismiss the fear of being unclean or contaminated. You fully realise this ritual to be unreasonable but feel compelled to carry it out to ward off the anxiety associated with the compulsion.

Obsessions can occur independently of compulsions, it is thought that around 25 percent of sufferers will only struggle with obsessions, so the fear is there but they do not feel compelled to carry out the ritual to free themselves of the anxiety.

The most common of compulsions would be the hand washing ritual. You would be continually concerned about avoiding any contamination so much so you avoid coming into contact with anything associated with dirt or germs, an example here would be shaking hands with someone or even touching a door handle. You could literally spend hours washing hands to reduce your anxiety about contamination. It is thought that women are more likely to be compulsive about cleanliness but men would outnumber women when it comes to checking and re-checking items, as in the example of repeatedly checking if a door is locked.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is more often than not accompanied by depression and in some cases can also develop into phobic avoidance, for example, a sufferer will completely avoid public restrooms.

Obsessive-compulsive behaviour was at one time considered a rare disorder but recent studies have shown that four or five percent of the worlds population may suffer to a degree with this disorder. It is important for anyone who has obsessive-compulsive disorder to realize it has nothing whatsoever to do with being crazy or having a form of madness. You recognize that what you are doing is irrational and you are very frustrated that you cannot control your thoughts and actions.

Studies have shown that about half of all obsessive-compulsive disorders actually begin in childhood with the majority of the remaining cases developing in early adult life, a fairly small number of cases will appear in later life.

The cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder is not clear but there is some evidence that a deficiency of serotonin may be associated with this disorder. This train of thought is due to the fact that some sufferers will improve when they are prescribed medication known to increase serotonin levels.

•Treatment methods include:
•Relaxation therapy – deep breathing and other relaxation skills will help reduce the anxiety.
•Exposure and response prevention – where a sufferer will be exposed to a situation known to activate obsessions and then gradually prevented from performing the ritual associated with it.
•Lifestyle changes – to include exercise, diet and management of stress
•Medication – mainly treated with SSRI’s such as Prozac, Zoloft etc with long term use being common for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you believe you or a loved one may be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder then contact your family doctor initially who may if necessary refer you to a specialist who has experience of this disorder and will be able to start you on the correct treatment. Remember, help is available, you do not have to suffer in silence.

© Andrew Tudor Jones