OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – Here’s what you need to understand

At some point in our lives, we have all come across the term Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, popularly called OCD for short. The first time I heard about OCD was while watching a movie. Apparently, there was this guy that was so organized and tidy.

He wanted everything in place and would get mad if things were not kept in an orderly fashion, including his clothes (I mean, they were even color coded). He also hated dirt, almost like he was allergic to anything dirt and was going to die if any gets to him. So he would wash his hands a lot and scrub his floors so well.

OCD

Usually, when people get so organized and clean, people would say jokingly that they had OCD. “Look at Ade, He’s so OCD, just look at how he gets mad about things not being organized and clean”. I’ve also heard people claim to have it like it’s something beautiful; something good to have. So you’d hear someone say gladly, ‘I’m so OCD, I don’t like dirty things’.

What is OCD?

OCD

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions.

It is a disorder because it’s a form of illness that affects one’s state of mind and brain greatly. It is also a type of anxiety disorder because it is characterized by significant feelings of anxiety and fear.

Obsessions are ideas, thoughts, impulses, or images that constantly/repeatedly come to mind. They are usually not fun to have and cause serious anxiety and distress to the person. They come in different forms, like fear of getting dirty, fear of harming someone, taboos, religious behaviors, making sure things are in perfect order and sex. Basically, it’s like a bad thought they can’t help but have and it comes as a threat to them, giving them intense fear and anxiety.

Compulsions on the other hand, are repeated behaviors done in response to the reoccurring thoughts (obsessions). When someone with OCD has these obsessions, they feel the need to act on them to reduce the reoccurring obsessions and for relief. These actions or behaviors are known as compulsions.

For instance, if someone with OCD enters a room and has the constant fear or thought of getting dirty (they usually feel like its life threatening) and they feel the very table they touched is dirty, they have this constant voice in their head that keeps telling them they are in danger. For them to have a form of relief, they do something about it, which in this case is to wash their hands thoroughly and repeatedly. Unfortunately, the relief is only for a short time.

The most common type of compulsion people know about is that of orderliness and cleanliness. However, there are other types such as hoarding things, always checking on things (e.g. making sure they turned off the tap several times even though they know they did), being overly religious, harming people, and others that may not necessarily be captured.

Compulsions are rituals that the person believes reduce the risk of the obsessions coming true, or at least reduce the anxiety they produce. However, the compulsions are not really useful. They do not prevent the feared consequence or are clearly excessive. Compulsions or rituals take up so much time that they get in the way of work, school, and family obligations.

-OCD Institute England

When it comes to OCD, people that have this don’t see it as a pleasant thing or something to joke about because once you truly learn what OCD is all about, you would understand why. People with OCD have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that are quite scary and seem life threatening. It’s not something they can exactly stop; it’s quite constant, almost like a voice in the head constantly pestering them.

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Also, they feel the need to act out on it because it gives them relief. Look at it this way; imagine a voice in your head constantly nagging you about how you need to jump two times before coming down a stair. It’s so loud and frustrating that the only way to reduce it is to actually jump twice then come down. That’s how it is with OCD.

The interesting thing about OCD is that people with this anxiety disorder are in touch with reality. They know that what these voices say are not true, they know there’s no threat exactly but they really can’t help it because it gives them so much anxiety and fear.

Symptoms of OCD

OCD

The symptoms of OCD are seen in two main forms: Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessions

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
  • Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order

Compulsions

  • Excessive cleaning and/or hand washing
  • Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
  • Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off
  • Compulsive counting

Before someone says,’ this isn’t so bad, I do one or more of these, especially the point about checking things (I do that also)’, here’s what you need to understand about these symptoms.

  • People with OCD can’t control their thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive
  • They spends at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors
  • They certainly don’t derive pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
  • They experience significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors

People with OCD might have some other disorders alongside. An example is the tic disorder which is ‘repetitive movements, such as eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and head or shoulder jerking. Common vocal tics include repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing, or grunting sounds.

A person is diagnosed with OCD by a professional as one having some of these symptoms with these symptoms affecting their daily lives.

Types of OCD

  • Contamination and Washing
  • Doubts About Accidental Harm and Checking
  • Symmetry, Arranging, Counting, and Just Right OCD
  • Unacceptable Taboo Thoughts and Mental Rituals

Risk Factors

The risk factors for OCD include genes, brain structure and functioning and environment (e.g. trauma).

OCD affects both male and female and usually presents itself between the ages of 8 to 12 in children and also late teen years and early adulthood. It is estimated in the United States that about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children have OCD.

In Nigeria, there is no exact information regarding the demographic of OCD amongst Nigerians.

Treatment

OCD is treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

Medication refers to the drugs to take to help the brain and calm the nerves. Psychotherapy on the other hand refers to the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways.

The most common psychotherapy used for people with OCD is the Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). With ERP, the patient spends time in the very situation that triggers compulsions (e.g. touching dirty objects) but is prevented from undertaking the usual resulting compulsion (e.g. hand washing).

To know more about the several treatment options, it’s important to get in touch with a mental health professional.

Next time you want to refer to someone as having OCD, you might just want to think twice about it. OCD isn’t something to joke about, neither is it something to admire.


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Here are the references for the article and also additional articles you might want to check out if interested in knowing more about OCD.

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