60 seconds

60 seconds on… Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In today’s post we are exploring a mental health condition called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD for short). This condition appears to have become more known in recent years, with a number of celebrities (such as Leonardo Dicaprio and Justin Timberlake) talking openly about their own experiences of living with the condition. Also, there has been recent news suggesting the number of people in the UK seeking help for OCD has risen sharply since the outbreak of coronavirus, with 72% of those with OCD feeling like their symptoms have worsened (full article can be found here).

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, involving a vicious cycle of obsessive thoughts, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and temporary relief.

Obsessions are reoccurring thoughts or images. These are often distressing for the individual and make them feel uncomfortable or like they can’t control them. An example of this could be obsessive thoughts that a fire is going to start in the kitchen. These obsessive thoughts can cause levels of anxiety to rise in the individual, alongside feelings of intense fear or doubt. 

Other obsessive thoughts can include:

  • A fear of contamination from body fluids, germs, dirt or pollution in the environment.
  • A fear of losing control of themselves, which could lead them to carrying out behaviours such as harming themselves or others. 
  • A fear about lack of perfectionism. They may feel that things need to be an exact way.
  • A fear of forgetting or losing important things or information.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that individuals carry out in order to rid themselves of their obsessions and lower their anxieties. These compulsions often only offer a temporary relief from an individual’s obsessions, meaning they return and the cycle starts again. Relating to the example above, an individual may flick plug switches in the kitchen on and off multiple times in a specific way to try and reduce their fears of a fire starting.

Other compulsions can include:

  • Excessive washing of the body and hands.
  • Excessive cleaning of the environment around them (e.g. household objects)
  • Repetitive checking that their actions haven’t had a negative effect on or harmed anyone.
  • Checking that they haven’t harmed themselves – including checking the physical condition of their body.
  • Avoidance of situations which may trigger obsessive thoughts.

Individuals with OCD experience constant feelings of fear that something bad is going to happen. Although these fears can appear irrational to others, they can be intense or overpowering for people with OCD. Their thoughts replay over and over again in their minds and they can become stuck on these distressing thoughts. They may feel like they aren’t in control of their own mind, they feel like their thoughts are taking over them and putting constant pressure on them. The cycle of thoughts and behaviours that OCD creates can have a negative effect on an individual in a number of ways:

  • An individual may sustain damage to their physical health as a result of their compulsions – for example they may make the skin on their hands bleed from scrubbing too much. 
  • Some individuals may turn to self-medication in order to feel that they can cope with the condition. This can lead to them abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs which can cause further damage to their physical health.
  • Individuals may not feel in control of their own lives and may feel enslaved by their condition. Having OCD can make an individual feel ashamed of themselves and how they behave. They may worry that they are going to think like this forever and they can’t be treated. 
  • They may get anxious about being around others due to their condition which can cause them to become withdrawn from the world around them. This can lead to them feeling isolated and lonely.

OCD can also have an effect on an individuals daily life:

  • It get in the way of them carrying out tasks which could have an impact on their education, where they find themselves able to complete tasks in the set time due to their compulsive behaviours. 
  • Compulsive behaviours may also make it difficult to obtain, sustain and progress in a job. Individuals with OCD may avoid certain situations which can make it difficult to carry out their job properly.
  • An individual’s relationships with others can become strained. If they are with a partner who doesn’t understand the condition, this could cause disputes as they don’t understand the reasons for the individuals behaviours. 
  • Their friends and family may stay away from them when they find out about their condition due to the stigma around mental illness. This can reduce their quality of life due to lack of social interactions.
  • An individual’s obsessions and compulsions can make it difficult for them to look after others such as their children. This could lead to accidents occurring which could have a damaging effect on the parent-child relationship.

I hope that the information above is insightful. I certainly found out a lot more about the condition and just how much of an effect it can have on an individuals life.