Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychological condition that causes a particular pattern of thought and behaviour (rituals) in an individual and this leads to severe anxiety and distress. It is defined as a ritual thought or act that the person realises is foolish, but they have to do the ritual to relieve their anxiety.
According to OCD-UK, the illness affects as many as 12 in every 1000 people. However, due to the diverse nature of the obsessions, anxieties and compulsions the condition encompasses, it may affect many more people who are not diagnosed.
The exact cause of OCD is not known but may include a genetic tendency, be brought about by stress or life changes, it may be that some personalities are more prone to OCD or that brain changes may occur to trigger OCD symptoms. The most important thing if you think you may have OCD is not to try to resist an obsessive thought by introducing more compulsive behaviours, for example, using other thoughts, but to resist the compulsive behaviour itself.
Most people have unwanted thoughts at times and can carry on their lives without giving an undue amount of time to them. However, persistent unwanted and unpleasant thoughts that dominate your life might indicate an obsession. Obsessions divide into two groups either involving health and safety or cleanliness and hygiene.
Obsessions such as a need for order, a fear of disease or infection or a fear of causing harm through a mistake or accident lead to anxieties which can only be temporarily overcome by compulsive actions. Compulsions can include rituals, such as frequent hand washing; rearranging objects; checking and rechecking the same detail; counting items or repeating words.
People with OCD realise that their behaviour is irrational but they cannot stop acting on their compulsions. Severe OCD can make it impossible to work or to take part in everyday activities.
An assessment for OCD will usually take the form of detailed questioning to find out how much your everyday life is affected by obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviour. Less than one hour is classified as mild OCD, one to three hours as moderate and more than three hours as severe.
Treatment will usually involve Cognitive Behavioural Therapy involving gradual exposure to those situations that cause anxiety without carrying out the compulsive behaviours associated with them. People with mild to moderate OCD can often be helped with this type of therapy alone but it may be necessary for medication in the form of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to be given if therapy alone is not enough or if the OCD is more severe.
Some patients who have OCD can also develop depression which needs to be addressed because, if left untreated, it can make the symptoms of OCD more pronounced.
With an accurate diagnosis from one of our consultant psychiatrists and appropriate treatment, most people are able to overcome their obsessive compulsive behaviour with adequate psychological treatment.