What exactly is it?
OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is a mental illness characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts and impulses that occur over and over...and over again. Think of them like a broken record. No matter how many times you try to stop it, the thoughts (or, keeping with our analogy, the songs) are continuously looping and repeating in the person’s mind. These thoughts usually don’t make sense, but they create intense feelings of discomfort.
Compulsions (a.k.a. rituals) are repetitive behaviors that people engage in to make the obsessions go away. They are usually really time-consuming and they interfere with daily life. Compulsions are a “must” - people feel like they need to carry them out in order to prevent harm or to get rid of the discomfort. Unfortunately, OCD is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Giving in to compulsions makes the anxiety go away temporarily, but after a while, it comes back with a vengeance. The following are good examples of obsessive compulsive thoughts:
You HAVE to check that the door is locked 8 times, or else something bad will happen.
If you don’t touch the table just right, Mom will get sick.
Despite a lot of research, the exact causes of OCD still remain unknown. Scientists do know, though, that OCD is an amalgamation of various genetic (it runs in families), auto-immune, behavioral, cognitive and neurological factors. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), OCD is among the top 20 causes of illness-related disability worldwide for people ages 15-44 years old.
What are the symptoms?
Contrary to popular stereotypes, people with OCD aren’t “extreme germaphobes.” Some people do obsess over contamination, but that’s not true for everyone. Some common types of OCD thoughts are:
1) Contamination: This fear arises when a person with OCD feels the constant
need to wash and clean in order to get rid of perceived contamination.
2) Symmetry & Orderliness: Obsessing about objects being lined up/arranged “just right” to avoid discomfort or harm.
3) Checking: OCD sufferers also bear a repetitive need to “check” - for example, checking that the door is locked.
4) Unwanted thoughts: These can be intrusive sexual thoughts, disturbing mental images or unwanted ideas about causing harm to others.
5) Perfectionism: OCD sufferers may also obsess over evenness and exactitude.
6) Repetition: Repeating body movements, routine activities, etc.
Although this list is not exhaustive, usually different sorts of obsessions & compulsions fall
under these categories.
Can it be treated?
The short- and long-term consequences of OCD are serious and quite worthy of
attention. Common treatments include:
1. Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people with OCD rework their thoughts and behaviors. Exposure therapy helps OCD sufferers face their fears. For example, if you have a fear of contamination from certain foods, your therapist might have you eat those foods to see that nothing bad happens.
2. Medication: SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are helpful in treating OCD. They regulate the flow of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter linked to OCD symptoms.
The outlook for OCD is generally positive and an effective treatment mechanism could help manage obsessions and compulsions efficiently. A little care can do the magic.
If you want to hear more about OCD, check out the following poem called “OCD” by Neil Hilborn. A published author and OCD-sufferer himself, he does a great job showing what the disorder looks like:
Image credit: adaa.org