Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterised by the experience of obsessions and compulsions. OCD obsessions are repetitive, intrusive, unwanted thoughts that cause the sufferer to experience anxiety or other negative feelings. He/she then responds by performing compulsions (or rituals) – mental or behavioural acts to try to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessional fears, set things right, or neutralise the obsession. However, the compulsions are not realistically connected to what they are meant to be accomplishing, or are clearly excessive. The obsessional concerns lack a realistic or commonsensical basis and the relief offered by ritualising is temporary, until the next trigger situation is encountered and the obsession-compulsion sequence repeats itself. Frequently, people with OCD also cope by avoiding situations that trigger their fears, which is a further impediment to uninhibited living.
OCD is a wide-ranging condition, and its symptoms can take many forms. Examples of obsessions and compulsions include:
- Fears of contamination by germs, dangerous or disgusting substances, followed by repetitive washing to remove the contamination
- Fears the door might be unlocked, the oven left on, or the windows left open, followed by repeated checking that all is OK
- A sense of incompleteness after having performed an action, remedied by repeating the action until it feels ‘just right’
- Concerns about objects being misaligned or asymmetrical responded to by attempts at ordering
- Worries about unintentionally acting violently on an impulse, neutralised by bringing images to mind of acting in a caring way
- Fears of causing danger to loved ones by performing an action whilst having an unlucky thought – in order to keep them safe, the action then has to be repeated in the absence of the thought
- Fears of being a sexual deviant responded to in a futile quest to block or completely exclude offending thoughts from the sufferer’s mind
In the following YouTube clip (from the charity, Mind), three OCD sufferers discuss their problems( link):
For a diagnosis of OCD to be made, the obsessions or compulsions need to be time-consuming and interfere in the person’s functioning. It is estimated around 12 in every 1,000 people in the UK are affected by the condition which equates to almost 750,000 people. Around 2-3% of people develop OCD at some point over the course of their lives. Symptoms can take their onset in childhood or adulthood and affect men and women in equal numbers. It is believed that genetic factors and certain life experiences contribute to the risk of developing the condition.
Since the 1960’s, OCD has been a treatable condition and the recommended treatments include psychological therapy or medication. The choice of psychological therapy or medication depends on the person’s preference; however, they can also be combined which is recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
If you or someone close to you is showing symptoms of OCD then in the first instance a visit to your GP is advised. A comprehensive list of GP’s in the local area can be found here. He/she may refer you or the individual to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) for further assessment and treatment.
Alternatively why not read one of the following books recommended by Dr Jan van Niekerk