Most of us know someone who enjoys tidying up and has a passion for putting things in order. They’re a self-proclaimed clean freak who has “just a bit of OCD”. But do they actually have an obsessive-compulsive disorder? Let’s learn more about the symptoms of OCD.
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In this article, we dive into what OCD is and provide the truth of the common myths about this mental health condition.
What is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and what are the symptoms of OCD?
OCD is a relatively common chronic mental health disorder that is characterized by recurrent unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). A person with OCD develops compulsions as a way to ease the feeling of anxiety associated with their obsessions.
Examples of obsessions that commonly affect those with OCD include:
- A fear of germs, disease, infection or contamination by dirty or unclean substances
- An excessive urge or need for things to be symmetrical or in perfect order
- Unwanted and repulsive thoughts or images about sex, violence, religion or other taboo topics
- Extreme thoughts about hurting self or others
Examples of compulsions that commonly affect those with OCD include:
- Compulsive washing hands
- Cleaning items or surfaces over and over again
- Counting things repeatedly
- Constantly putting things into order or in a particular way
- Excessively checking such as if the door is locked or the stove is off
- Continuously repeating certain words in their head
- Replacing disturbing thoughts with wanted thoughts
There is also an emotional component where the obsession causes a feeling of intense anxiety or distress.
OCD can significantly disrupt a person’s day-to-day routine and livelihood; without treatment, the obsessions and compulsions can become so severe, they prevent a person from living a happy and productive life.
According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), 1.2% of US adults had OCD between 2001 and 2003. The majority of those with OCD were between the ages of 18 to 29 years of age. It is estimated that 2.3% of US adults will develop OCD within their lifetime.
OCD can affect anyone of any age, gender or ethnicity. It usually develops at a young age. Symptoms can be experienced in childhood, adolescence and early adult years; however, they can also start to appear in late adulthood, after the age of 35. An OCD diagnosis usually occurs by the age of 19. Some of the criteria that a mental health clinician may use to diagnose someone with OCD include:
- They lack control over their thoughts or behaviors, even when they realize that they are excessive and unhealthy
- They spend at least an hour a day thinking about their obsessions and acting on their compulsions
- They do not enjoy their compulsions but do so to provide temporary relief from their unwanted thoughts
- Their thoughts and behaviors significantly disrupt their daily life and cause problems in their normal functioning
Myth: A love of cleaning and organization are symptoms of OCD
OCD is a widely misunderstood condition as the term is often used inappropriately. It’s become part of the daily conversation to joke about how someone’s love of cleaning and organization means they have OCD.
But the main reason why this is a myth is that someone with OCD does not enjoy their compulsive behaviors. They perform these actions because they are trying to feel better and ease their anxiety. They want to neutralize or eliminate their unwanted thoughts with their compulsive behaviors.
For instance, their fear of germs may cause them to clean excessively or wash their hands. Their intense urge for orderliness may cause them to continually organize and arrange items in perfect symmetry.
People affected by OCD do not take pleasure in their compulsions; most of them understand that their behaviors are irrational and lack logic. However, they can’t stop themselves because they feel they need to do them in order to prevent something bad from happening.
Myth: Having OCD isn’t necessarily harmful
Some people may think OCD is a harmless condition. What’s so bad about being clean and organized while double-checking to see that the lights are off and the door is secure?
OCD can interfere with and negatively affect all areas of a person’s life. Some people with OCD may avoid certain people, locations or situations that will trigger or worsen their symptoms. They may fear going outside their home, reduce contact with friends and family, and have trouble taking care of themselves. Some may develop a substance use disorder in order to cope with the distress.
In addition, compulsions can be incredibly time-consuming, debilitating and painful. They can consume a person’s life, limiting their ability to attend work, perform school activities and fulfill their daily responsibilities.
The Sheehan Disability Scale is a tool used by researchers and clinicians to assess functional impairment in terms of work, school, social life, leisure activities, family life and home responsibilities.
Using this tool, the NCS-R survey results showed that 50.6% of adults with OCD had serious impairment; 34.8% and 14.6% had moderate and mild impairment, respectively between 2001 and 2003.
Myth: People with OCD just need to relax
Most of us have had a passing thought that causes us distress. For instance, you’re in the middle of enjoying a dinner out when all of a sudden, you wonder whether you closed the garage door. Some may have even had disturbing images or forbidden ideas pop into their heads from time to time.
However, for people with OCD, these thoughts don’t just happen every so often; they are persistent, and uncontrollable and preoccupy their minds. OCD isn’t something that a person can simply get over or let go of. They can’t just relax and stop themselves from having these thoughts.
It is a chronic mental health disorder that can reduce a person’s quality of life. OCD requires day-to-day management including coping mechanisms and effective treatment. Treatment options include medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.
Most people with OCD are able to manage their condition, minimize symptoms and live a normal and fulfilling life with standard treatment. However, some individuals continue to experience symptoms.
Health researchers are studying new treatment options for those who do not respond to usual treatment. Some of these include neurosurgical treatment, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and psilocybin dosing.
If you or a loved one is experiencing OCD symptoms, please reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in this disorder. Find a licensed therapist who is in your area in our directory today.
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- Huppert, J. D., Simpson, H. B., Nissenson, K. J., Liebowitz, M. R., & Foa, E. B. (2009). Quality of life and functional impairment in obsessive-compulsive disorder: a comparison of patients with and without comorbidity, patients in remission, and healthy controls. Depression and Anxiety, 26(1), 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20506
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- National Institute of Mental Health. (2003). NIMH» Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). www.nimh.nih.gov. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd
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- NIMH» Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (n.d.). www.nimh.nih.gov. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd#part_2227