Have you ever told your particularly neat friend that they ‘are OCD’? Or labelled yourself as ‘being so OCD’ because you like your desk tidy? OCD (otherwise known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a term that is commonly thrown around in today’s society to describe the personality traits of being clean or perfectionistic. This makes it difficult to know exactly what OCD is as a condition.
In reality, OCD is a serious and sometimes disabling mental health disorder that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. It involves the experience of frequent and unwanted intrusive thoughts, images or urges (obsessions) followed by repetitive thoughts or behaviours to reduce the resulting distress (compulsions).
Although most people can easily dismiss intrusive thoughts as unimportant, those experiencing OCD interpret these thoughts as meaningful and dangerous. In response, they may feel compelled to think an alternative thought or perform a particular behaviour in order to relieve their distress or prevent a fear from coming true.
Commonly experienced obsessions can include thoughts of harm toward oneself or others, a desire for symmetry and order, or a fear of germs or contamination, to name a few. Common behaviours or thought patterns in response to obsessions may include checking door locks and switches, counting and ordering, or washing and cleaning, amongst many others.
Someone experiencing OCD may keep their experiences hidden due to embarrassment or because they feel their behaviour is a necessary part of their life and they cannot change. This can be highly distressing for both the person affected and their family and friends.
However, OCD can be well managed through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which can support the development of skills for managing and re-interpreting intrusive thoughts lessening the need to respond to them. If you, or someone you know, are experiencing any aspects of OCD, you can talk to your GP or a psychologist about treatments to reduce or eliminate its symptoms and regain a sense of control.
Sophie Lynn-Evans and Prue Foster