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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the more common mental health conditions and is estimated to affect 2-3% of the adult population.

There are two main elements to OCD, obsessional thoughts and compulsive acts. The obsession centres on a repetitive and unwanted thought which is difficult to ignore. A common obsession is the fear of catching an illness through contamination.

Relief from the obsession is often found by acting out a compulsion. So for example, someone who has an obsession about catching an illness may seek to lessen their anxiety by repeatedly washing their hands.

Some people may have compulsions which are not triggered by obsessional thoughts. At the same some people also have obsessional thoughts without it leading to an outwardly physical act of compulsion. This latter form of OCD is often referred to as ‘Pure O’.

Symptoms of OCD

The symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder can be split between the two main elements of obsessional thought and compulsive behaviour.

Nearly everyone will at some stage have an unpleasant or unwanted thought but they are able to put the thought to one side or ignore it. An obsession is a persistent and often distressing thought. In addition to the fear of contamination other types of obsession include the fear of being harmed, the fear of harming others, a need for symmetry, fear of a natural disaster occurring and the fear of leaving the house unlocked.

As most compulsions arise from the initial obsession the types of compulsive act also vary greatly. Some common types of compulsive behaviour include, repeating words or phrases, checking doors are locked and lights switched off, ritualistic behaviour such as counting, repeating words or phrases and arranging items into a particular order or direction.

Many people with OCD are able to hide their symptoms due to feelings of shame or embarrassment. This has led to OCD often being referred to as ‘The Secret Disorder’. In severe cases, however, OCD can completely dominate someone’s life and it is for this reason the World Health Organisation (WHO) have listed it as the 10th most debilitating mental or physical illness. Many people with OCD may also suffer some form of depression.

Treatment for OCD

The goods news for someone with OCD is that treatment is available. The most common and effective treatment is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Sometimes medications are also prescribed to give additional support, the most commonly used medications for people with OCD are SSRI medications (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor Medications). An alternative to SSRIs is Clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA).

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Useful Websites

  • Mind Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. They work to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress.
  • OCD Action OCD Action is the largest national charity that provides help and advice on Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.
  • OCD UK OCD-UK is a leading, service user led, national charity, independently working with and for people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
  • Rethink Founded over 30 years ago to give a voice to people affected by severe mental illness and today, with over 8,300 members, remain determined that this voice will continue to be heard.
  • Samaritans Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.