Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic (long-term) mental health condition that is usually associated with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour.
An obsession is an unwanted, unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person’s mind and results in anxiety. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that a person feels compelled to perform to try to avert or undo the effect of the obsession.
Symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder
The symptoms of OCD can range from mild to severe. For example, some people with OCD will spend about an hour a day engaged in obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviour. For others, the condition can completely take over their life.
While obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that can affect people differently, it usually causes a particular pattern of thought and behaviour.
Patterns of thought and behaviour
Most people with OCD generally fall into a set pattern or cycle of thought and behaviour. This pattern has four main steps:
- Obsession – your mind is overwhelmed by a constant obsessive fear or concern, such as the fear that your house will be burgled.
- Anxiety – this obsession provokes a feeling of intense anxiety and distress.
- Compulsion – you then adopt a pattern of compulsive behaviour to reduce your anxiety and distress, such as checking that all your windows and doors are locked at least three times before leaving your house.
- Temporary relief – the compulsive behaviour brings temporary relief from anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon return, causing the pattern or cycle to begin again.
Some common obsessions that affect people with OCD include:
- fear of causing harm to yourself or to others through a deliberate action – for example, fear that you may attack someone else even though this type of behaviour disgusts you
- fear of causing harm to yourself or to others through a mistake or accident – for example, fear that you may set the house on fire by accidently leaving the cooker on, which leads you to repeatedly check the kitchen appliances
- fear of contamination by disease, infection or other unpleasant substance
- a need for symmetry or orderliness – e.g. you may feel the need to ensure that all the labels on the tins in your cupboard face the same way
- fear of committing an act that would seriously offend your religious beliefs
Some common types of compulsive behaviour that affect people with OCD include:
- checking – such as checking that doors are locked, or that the gas or a tap is off
- ordering and arranging
- asking for reassurance
- needing to confess
- repeating words silently
- prolonged thoughts about the same subject
- ‘neutralising’ thoughts (to counter the obsessional thoughts or images)
Read about Anxiety.