What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by unwanted, intrusive thoughts (called obsessions) and behavioural or mental rituals (called compulsions).
WHAT ARE OBSESSIONS?
Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that come into your head, no-matter how hard you try to block them out. They are always about something dangerous or upsetting and they make you feel anxious, guilty, or scared, in case the thought is true. Examples include thoughts like ‘Did I turn off the stove?’ (Maybe the house will burn down), or ‘My hands are contaminated’ (I might get sick).
Obsessions can also be images of frightening or upsetting things, like stabbing someone or running someone over, or they may be urges to do something you don’t want to do. Obsessions are always disturbing and unpleasant because they focus on things that are important to you, and that you don’t want to be true. Most people try to cope with their obsessions by reassuring themselves that the thought is not true, or by doing something to lessen the risk of danger (e.g. checking the stove, washing their hands).
WHAT ARE COMPULSIONS?
Compulsions can be anything you do in response to an obsession, in order to prevent it from coming true, or to take away the fear created by your intrusive thoughts. They can be visible behaviours, like checking or washing, or they can be things you do in your mind that no-one can see, like praying, counting, or repeating words silently. Compulsions are also called ‘rituals’ because most people feel like they have to do them in a very precise way, and they cannot rest until they’ve been done properly.
As a result, instead of performing compulsions just once, people with OCD repeat these behaviours over and over until they are satisfied that danger has been averted, or until the anxiety and distress is reduced.
HOW COMMON IS OCD?
OCD can occur in both adults and children, with most people developing their first symptoms before the age of thirty. Boys usually show their first symptoms at a younger age than girls, so OCD is twice as common in boy children than in girls. In adults, the number of men and women with OCD is equal. Since mild obsessional symptoms are common in the general population, you don’t get a diagnosis of OCD unless your obsessions and compulsions interfere with your life, or stop you from doing some of the things you want to do.
Population surveys have shown that approximately one adult in two hundred is diagnosed with OCD each year. Once you have OCD it is rare for it to go away without proper treatment, so if the symptoms described above sound familiar, you should seek help from a professional who is familiar with the treatment of OCD.