Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that commonly occurs but is still widely misunderstood. Affecting roughly 2.2million people in the United States alone, the symptoms ofOCD can appear fairly benign to an outsider, but cause intense anxiety, worry, and unhappiness in the life of someone who has it.
Learning how to identify possible symptoms of Obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as being aware of what treatments are available for it, can help to empower sufferers to seek out the help they need.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines OCD as a type of anxiety disorder that is characterised by repetitive and intrusive thoughts and beliefs (obsessions) that elicit ritualised, repetitive behaviours(compulsions) which are designed to ease these thoughts.
A person suffering from Obsessive-compulsive disorder often finds themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of consuming thoughts and reactive behaviours:
- Having obsessive thoughts which can appear involuntarily on their own or in response to certain situations.
- Experiencing intense feelings of anxiety or worry resulting from the nature of the obsessive thoughts.
- Performing highly curated and ritualised compulsive behaviours as a means of easing these feelings of anxiety and worry.
- Feeling temporary relief from the compulsive behaviours, until the obsessive thoughts return, prompting the cycle to begin all over again.
What are the Symptoms of OCD?
Experiencing obsessive thoughts or performing behaviours compulsively does not mean you are suffering from OCD. Everyone can experience compulsive thoughts and feelings relating to something, but it’s not the same as havingObsessive-compulsive disorder.
People suffering from OCD have thoughts or behaviours that:
- Take up a significant amount of time in their lives (at least one hour every day).
- Interfere with their day-to-day life, their activities, their career, and their relationships.
- Are beyond their control and they feel a sense of powerlessness regarding their thoughts and actions.
Symptoms usually fall into 4 distinct categories:
- Contamination -sufferers are afraid of physical contamination and may perform intense unnecessary cleaning or washing compulsions.
- Checking -sufferers have persistent, intrusive thoughts relating to danger which can translate into compulsive checking behaviours, such as repeatedly checking that the oven is switched off or that every window in the house is bolted shut.
- Doubt and punishment - sufferers may experience intense worry that if they do not behave in a certain way they will either be punished or reprimanded and constantly seek reassurance for thoughts and actions. They may also experience intense and intrusive thoughts relating to violence and sexual behaviour, causing them to feel guilt, distress, and worry over these thoughts.
- Order and symmetry - sufferers obsess over arranging and ordering items and behaviour in certain ways. They may fixate on certain numbers, colours, and arrangements that they believe to be ‘good’ and will go out of their way to ensure that their behaviour or belongings reflect this sense of order. Sufferers may also hoard things, but this behaviour should not be confused with Hoarding disorder, which is separate from OCD.
There are many misconceptions relating to Obsessive-compulsive disorder, one being that sufferers perform these behaviours because they enjoy doing them, which is not the case.
Having OCD causes overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety for the person suffering from it. They usually understand that their thoughts, impulses, and behaviours are irrational, but they feel unable to control them.
These behaviours can negatively impact their lives, their friendships, their relationships, and their ability to hold down a job. No one who suffers from OCD ever chooses to act the way that they do.
It’s not usually possible for someone who is suffering from this disorder to just stop or change their behaviour, without the help of professional treatment.
What Forms of Treatment are Available?
If you think you might be suffering from OCD, or have a loved one who is, it’s important to know that there are recognised treatment options available that can help.
These treatments are designed to help people manage their symptoms more effectively and find relief from the constant fear, worry, and anxiety they experience. Treatments consist of:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy - CBT is one of the most effective treatment methods for Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a form of therapy that consists of slowly and gradually exposing the sufferer to sources of their obsessions to help ease their compulsions.
- Medication -Psychiatric medication, particularly SSRI’s as prescribed by a doctor, can help people to manage and control their obsessive and compulsive thoughts.
- Neuromodulation -In rarer cases, when therapy and medication cannot help to ease OCD symptoms, doctors may recommend neuromodulation, which involves using a device to alter electrical activity in a certain area of the brain. This method is typically only suggested after trying other treatment avenues.
Remember to never diagnose yourself or someone you know withObsessive-compulsive disorder or take medication without professional guidance.If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of OCD, book an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional.
They will be able to run tests and ask you about your symptoms to determine whether they are being caused by OCD or another underlying condition.No matter what the results are, they will be able to help guide you and recommend treatment if it's necessary.
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