- What is OCD?
OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a mental health condition in which one has uncontrollable obsessive thoughts that result in them engaging in compulsive behaviours.
Obsessive thoughts are those which are unwelcome yet repeatedly appear, often causing people who are affected by them to experience feelings of extreme anxiety.
Compulsive behaviours are those which are repetitive in nature, usually done to try and escape the anxiety of the obsession (e.g., someone who obsessively worries about their house being broken into compulsively checking that their door is locked several times an hour.)
2. What are the possible causes of OCD?
There are several factors that can cause OCD to develop in someone, those factors categorizable as being either biology driven, personality driven, or experience driven.
The first theory, that OCD is caused by biological factors, suggests that it is a condition that some people are born with. It occurs in people with a lack of the brain chemical, Serotonin, according to some scientists, although this is yet to be proven with evidence. The same being true for genetics. Whilst it is thought that OCD, much like other mental illnesses, can be inherited by children from their parents, any studies conducted into the matter are found to have been ‘unconclusive’, therefore we cannot regard this to be true.
Another theory is that OCD occurs because of one’s personality (learned or inherited.) Such personality traits that increase the likelihood of someone having OCD can be mirrored in someone considered to be a ‘perfectionist’- someone who sets themselves very high standards.
A final explanation that points to the cause of OCD can be reflected in one’s personal experiences, examples being school bullying, family history of ill mental health, and exposure to regular stress inducing events.
3. What feelings might an individual have when experiencing OCD?
An individual struggling with OCD might feel ashamed of their obsessive thoughts. Shame is a powerful emotion that can result in people refraining from seeking support out of fear of being judged harshly. This can result in feelings of loneliness arising, because people who do not seek out support might feel as though they are on their own, and that no one else could possibly understand what they are going through. Such negative emotions can lead to people ‘shutting themselves away’, withdrawing from social activities and becoming very socially isolated. This can cause further negative feelings to arise, and, if left to go on without any intervention, could result in additional mental health conditions developing, such as depression and anxiety.
People with OCD might also experience feelings of frustration aimed at themselves. Having unwelcome obsessive thoughts that lead to them feeling the need to carry out compulsions can feel very much out of their control, and it is. OCD is a mental illness that no one chooses to have. Knowing that they are not in control over their own thoughts and behaviour, however, can cause anger and anxiety to make an appearance. It can also result in people becoming exhausted.
People with OCD who might feel out of control of their life may try to seek control in other areas, such as via substance misuse. Whilst substances such as drugs and alcohol might provide relief from the negative feelings in the short-term, the reality is that, in the long run, such feelings will only be intensified. It is a temporary fix and when the relief wears off, the feelings of anxiety and distress caused by the obsession will still be there, and probably even stronger than they were before.
4. How does OCD affect:
A- The individual- OCD presents itself in many ways, but for some people, the compulsions which they carry out can cause, not just emotional harm to themselves, but physical harm, too. For example, someone with an obsession about hygiene and cleanliness may feel compelled to wash their hands excessively, which can result in their skin being damaged as a result. If they fail to carry out their rituals, in this case that being washing their hands, they will likely experience intense guilt, leading to their ritual becoming even more extreme when it is next carried out, since they will want to combat those feelings of guilt.
OCD can also lead to people who have the condition making life changing decisions based on their obsession (e.g., an obsession about dying might prevent someone from having a baby out of fear that they might not survive the labour process.) This would unsurprisingly make them feel very much out of control of their life and could very easily lead to further mental health issues arising as a direct result of the impact that their OCD has on them.
B- Their life- OCD can, and does, have a severe impact on several areas of one’s life. It can lead to disruption to, or even the complete ruin of; education/employment, and relationships, amongst many other things.
Spending excessive time carrying out compulsions could stop people with OCD from leaving their house or being able to manage ‘normal’ activities. They might distance themselves from society to allow them to complete their compulsions, therefore having a severe impact on friendships and relationships.
If their life becomes ruled by their need to carry out compulsions, they might find themselves jobless, potentially causing further stress in their life due to financial struggles arising.
5. How might an individual’s OCD affect others?
In the case of a parent/child relationship whereby the parent has OCD, the child, growing up in such a controlled environment might develop symptoms of OCD in themselves. For example, a parent who is obsessed with hygiene and carries out compulsions to ensure that their house is always clean is likely to pass on certain habits to their children, who learn from what they see. They might grow up thinking that this obsessive behaviour is normal, and engage in the same behaviour as their parent, therefore leading to a cycle of OCD arising throughout generations of families.
OCD can also impact upon other relationships, including romantic, professional, and peer ones. Since individuals with the condition often find themselves wanting to avoid seeing their family and friends, people who do not understand the illness might take this avoidance personally, believing that the individual has something against them. This can result in conflict arising, and potentially even cause, what were once solid relationships, to break down.
6. What are the types of thoughts and behaviour associated with OCD?
Thought- Fear of harming others by mistake (e.g., leaving the oven on causing the house to set on fire.)
Behaviour– Repeatedly checking that the oven is switched off.
Thought– Fear of contamination by disease or infection.
Behaviour– Repeatedly washing hands.
7. How can an individual with OCD manage their illness?
The first thing that anyone with an OCD diagnosis should do, is to research it. Doing this will give the individual greater insight into their condition, helping them to recognise the early warning signs and symptoms, and providing advise as to how their symptoms can be managed when they arise, as they inevitably do. Coping strategies can be devised with the knowledge learned, ensuring that the strategies are both healthy and productive, not unhealthy, nor harmful, as is the case with drugs and alcohol when consumed to excess.
People with OCD must ensure that they are practicing self-care, looking after themselves adequately by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise. By doing these things the individual will improve their energy levels and overall sense of wellbeing, therefore this should contribute to reduced stress. As stress is a trigger of OCD, reduced stress should therefore result in reduced symptoms of OCD.
Individuals with OCD should also ensure that they regularly address their emotions.
OCD can be a very isolating illness, and it can be tempting for people with the condition to distance themselves from other people, choosing to stay in their own little ‘bubble’ where it is just them and their OCD. It is important not to do this, however. People with OCD should push themselves to spend time with their loved ones, even if the prospect of that seems scary at first. Having a support network around will make it easier for people to be open and honest about how they are feeling, therefore breaking them out of the habit they may have fallen into whereby they suppress their feelings out of a sense of embarrassment or shame.
The fact is, talking really does help with the management of OCD. As the well-known saying goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, and I really do believe this to be the case, particularly in the context of OCD. If talking to family/friends seems too difficult, a support group could be contacted. There are lots of support groups specifically for OCD, many of which take place online, making them highly accessible. These groups offer people an opportunity to share their experiences with other people who understand what they are going through, and they also allow tips to be shared to support each other.
8. How can others help an individual with OCD to manage their illness?
Someone with OCD might not realise just how ‘disordered’ their behaviour is. If they do lack insight into their condition or are perhaps in denial that they meet the diagnostic criteria for the illness, it can be helpful for their loved ones to verbally express their own concerns and recommend that they seek help. Loved ones can support the individual in the process of finding help by assisting them in seeking out an experienced and reliable therapist. When treatment does start, the individual should be encouraged to remain committed to it, being reminded of all their ‘reasons to recover.’ It can help to acknowledge their improvements at this stage too, as this will allow them to see that their efforts, although possibly unnoticeable to them, are in fact helping them to get one step closer to recovering from their OCD. It will allow them to reflect, and feel rightfully proud of, the progress they have made.
As stress is a major trigger of OCD, people should try to ensure that individuals with OCD do not become overwhelmed by having too big of a workload. Instead, responsibility should be shared, with everyone helping. In families, this might mean other people having to do more around the house, and in schools, it could mean extending the time allowance in exams. If it reduces stress, it will in turn help individuals with OCD to manage their illness.
An individual with OCD should be encouraged to openly talk about how they are feeling. Not only will this help them in terms of knowing that they are not alone in their struggles, but it will also help family members/friends who will have an opportunity to gain insight into what living with OCD is really like, something which no amount of research could tell you.
To reduce feelings of shame and embarrassment that might be felt by the individual living with OCD, loved ones should be sure to use positive, encouraging language when discussing treatment, emphasising the fact that it is very much a treatable condition and one that millions of people struggle with, but make a full recovery from. This will help to break the secrecy of their OCD whilst providing them with hope for the future, something which they might be lacking in at present.
9. What are some local resources and treatments available to someone experiencing OCD?
- Barnsley OCD social support group.
This is a specialist group for people who have OCD, as well as carers and professionals involved in supporting someone with the condition. It provides a safe environment for those affected by OCD to openly talk about the impact it has on their life, providing support, advice, and encouragement to those who bravely speak out.
- Rethink Mental Illness- Doncaster Helpline.
The Doncaster helpline offers a free 24-hour service for people who are struggling with their mental health and need someone to talk to. The professionals at the other end of the phone treat everyone who calls with dignity and respect as they explain their feelings. They can then provide the individuals with emotional support and advice, suggesting further resources that might be of help for them to access.
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.)
CBT involves individuals with OCD being led to discover what will happen when they do not perform their rituals (i.e., when they do not respond to their obsessive thoughts with compulsive behaviour.) Practicing this in a controlled environment allows sufferers to come to the realisation that not performing rituals does not put themselves or their loved ones at risk of coming to harm.
It helps prove to people with OCD that it is not their thoughts themselves that are the problem, it is what the person makes of their thoughts and how they respond to them that is the problem.
- ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention.)
ERP therapy encourages individuals with OCD to ‘face their fears.’ This is done by letting obsessive thoughts come and go without trying to control them with compulsions. This can be an uncomfortable process, but over time, it does get easier, with anxiety symptoms reducing in intensity as people learn to tolerate them. ERP therefore aids OCD sufferers to recognise the fact that their uncomfortable feelings will eventually go away, even if the compulsions are not performed.