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OCD Demystified

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often misunderstood as a fixation on cleanliness alone. However, this mental health condition is far more intricate, involving intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviours that can significantly impact a person’s life. OCD affects about 1.2% of the population in the United Kingdom (UK) and has a higher rate of diagnosis in women compared to men. 

What is OCD?
OCD is a mental health disorder characterised by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts that are persistent and unwanted. These thoughts can come in various forms of fear, doubt, worry and images that uncontrollably find their way into a person’s awareness again and again. This then leads an individual to perform compulsive behaviours to soothe or avoid the horrible feelings that come with obsessions even if it seems illogical. Compulsions are often repetitive and an individual tends to use them to fight the anxiety-causing thoughts over and over even when they recognise that it is irrational. 

While cleanliness obsessions are common, OCD can manifest in various ways, including fears of harm, perfectionism, or symmetry. Obsessions can come in the form of:

  • Thoughts of harm coming to their loved-ones or themselves
  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Unwanted religious, sexual or violent thoughts
  • Worrying about traffic accidents
  • A need for symmetry and order

Compulsions are not just quirks and are actually driven by anxiety. These can come in many forms such as:

  • Excessive hand washing and cleaning surfaces
  • Checking things over again (repeatedly checking if the stove or oven is on, if doors are locked or if switches are on/off)
  • Rituals like counting or checking if the thought is that something bad will happen if this action isn’t done
  • Avoiding items such as knives for fear of harming oneself or others
  • Avoiding places to avoid OCD thoughts from occurring
  • Hoarding items to make sure that it wouldn’t harm the environment or someone if it was discarded

The Impact of OCD on Daily Life
OCD can significantly affect a person’s life in a multitude of ways. Having OCD can be all-consuming and affect daily functioning, relationships, and mental well-being. Thoughts and being in a constant state of anxiety can consume a significant amount of energy and time causing the person to feel unrest and fatigue which can severely interfere with school, work and social activities.  Compulsive behaviours can cause a strain in relationships because of misunderstandings and lack of knowledge on the part of the family members or partner to adequately accommodate the sufferer’s needs. Certain compulsions like excessive hand-washing can lead to severe skin irritations and avoidance of knives or being in the kitchen can cause an individual to eat only unhealthy take-outs impacting physical health greatly over time. Many individuals with OCD also tend to feel very isolated thanks to the stigma and shame surrounding their symptoms. 

Unfortunately there are many misconceptions about OCD that do perpetuate stigma and misunderstanding. Some common misconceptions from society about OCD include:

  • Being a perfectionist
  • Being a neat freak
  • A habit that is easy to overcome
  • It is not a disability
  • It is rare and doesn’t happen often
  • They’re autistic

A disability is something that puts one at a disadvantage, disrupting mental or physical functions that are needed for daily life and OCD does affect a person’s daily life this way. OCD is also a lot more common than people realise and unfortunately individuals may find it very difficult to seek help due to the stigma associated with it.

OCD and autism can have some similarities in that both perform repetitive behaviours however they are two very different conditions and while they can co-occur having OCD doesn’t’ mean someone has autism and vice-versa. Finally, not everyone with OCD has an obsession with cleanliness as mentioned above, they can have many other forms of obsessions and compulsions. It is essential to debunk myths that trivialise the disorder and recognise the complexity and severity of OCD beyond its portrayal in popular culture.

Treatment and Support
OCD is usually treated with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication, or a combination of both. Seeking help from mental health professionals is important for managing symptoms and improving quality of life for individuals with OCD. Their symptomatic challenges can also be alleviated through coping strategies, mindfulness practices, and a supportive network. There are many resources online and websites like OCD-UK that have forums where individuals can share personal experiences and offer empathy that can significantly help reduce the stigma associated with OCD.

OCD is a multifaceted disorder that extends beyond the stereotype of obsessive cleanliness. By raising awareness and providing support, we can create a more understanding and inclusive environment for individuals living with OCD.

NeuroDirect
Author: NeuroDirect

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