What is obsessive compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts and beliefs that compel the sufferer to engage in repetitive and ritualised, compulsive behaviours. These compulsive behaviours help to ease the fear or anxiety the person experiences from their obsessive thoughts.

Sufferers often end up trapped in a cycle of experiencing intrusive, unwelcome thoughts, feeling fear and anxiety as a result of those thoughts, performing compulsive behaviours and rituals that ease their anxiety for a while, only for the cycle to begin again.

OCD is often misunderstood and mischaracterised as a personality trait and that sufferers enjoy engaging in these behaviours. This is not true. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that can cause debilitating feelings of fear and anxiety.

People who have OCD are usually aware that their thoughts are irrational, but feel powerless to control them. As a result, they may struggle to leave their house, have a successful career, and form friendships and relationships.

Please remember that only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose you, and refrain from taking medication and undertaking treatment without professional recommendation.

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What Are the Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

A sufferer may experience obsessive thoughts related to cleaning and hygiene, safety, punishment, and order and symmetry:

  • Cleaning and hygiene - Fear of being contaminated or getting sick resulting in extreme, unwarranted washing or cleaning behaviours
  • Safety - Fearful thoughts or ideas relating to danger and safety resulting in repetitive, compulsive behaviours, like repeatedly checking that every door in the house has been locked
  • Punishment - Fear that if they do not do something right or act a certain way, sufferers will be punished resulting in them constantly looking for reassurance that their thoughts and actions are acceptable. Sufferers may also have unwelcome, intense thoughts about violence or sex, resulting in extreme feelings of distress, guilt, and anxiety
  • Order and symmetry - Having obsessive thoughts or ideas about the order and arrangement of items in particular ways. Tendency to fixate on certain colours, numbers, and arrangements believed to be “right” or “good”.

    These thoughts and behaviours:
  • Take up a significant amount of time, at least one hour per day
  • Cause sufferers to feel powerless and unable to control themselves
  • Interfere with or inhibit sufferers' ability to live their lives and engage in everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going to school or work, or completing a task

What are the causes of OCD?

The causes of OCD are still not fully understood by experts, but research indicates there may be several underlying factors that can contribute to a person developing OCD:

  • OCD might have a genetic component, as having an immediate family member with OCD can increase your risk of developing it. However, this gene has not yet been identified
  • Stressful or negative life events might trigger the development of OCD, like complications during pregnancy or childbirth, experiencing sexual trauma, or enduring a traumatic event
  • Physical complications or grievous bodily injury may also cause a person to develop OCD. Studies have shown children can develop OCD after having group A streptococcal infections, and someone who has endured a traumatic brain injury may be more at risk of developing OCD

How is OCD Treated?

People suffering from OCD are capable of managing their symptoms and living a normal life with help from the right treatment interventions.

Treatments for OCD include:

  • Medication - Certain prescribed antidepressants and psychiatric medications may help sufferers to more easily manage their symptoms
  • Therapy - Cognitive-behavioural therapy, or talk therapy, has been shown to be effective in treating OCD. ERP (Exposure and Response Therapy) has also proven successful
  • Neuromodulation - This is a rarer form of treatment, only prescribed in certain cases. Neuromodulation is a procedure involving the use of electrical impulses to alter activity in certain parts of the brain
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