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OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) – symptoms and information

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is essentially the way our mind forms a pattern of thoughts (obsessions) which then lead to a pattern of behaviours (compulsions)

This pattern is formed as such:

  • Obsession – this is a constant fear or worry about something in the mind which can become overwhelming.  This might be a fear that our actions may lead to harming another person
  • Anxiety – thinking about this obsession over and over can bring anxiety and panic
  • Compulsion – to reduce the anxiety and panic, one might stop going out to avoid causing any harm.  This is a compulsive action carried out to try to relieve ones worries.
  • Temporary relief – This compulsive behaviour may help at the time to relieve the anxiety and panic, but the obsession will come back and one has to continue the compulsive behaviour in order to relieve oneself again.  It is a vicious circle which cannot seem to be broken.

We can all have worries or suspicions at times, but many people can think about them logically and dissolve them with explanation or positive action.  Those people can get on with their lives and put their worries to the side.  But for others with OCD the thoughts, obsessions and behaviours do not stop and others may form.

Fear of leaving the oven on, setting the house on fire, harming others through your actions, cleanliness issues, or a need for perfection are a few traits.

Compulsive behaviour might not even be connected to the original obsession and often a sufferer will know that the compulsive behaviours are not logical but they just cannot stop doing them.  An example would be for a person to think they hadn’t locked the door when they left the house (the obsession).  They would have to go back to the house, no matter what time of day or night, to check that it was locked, even though they knew it was.  We may all have some obsessions, but the difference here is that the obsession comes with a compulsion; in this case the need to absolutely have to go back home to check, no matter where the person was or what they were doing.  Every time they go back they find the door locked, but it won’t stop the person from going through the same process again and again.

CAUSES

  • No one really knows what causes OCD but it is possibly inherited through genes and runs in families.  An increased blow flow in the brain has been found in people affected with OCD which returned to normal after successful treatment and recovery.
  • The neurotransmitter chemical, Serotonin, which transmits information from one brain cell to another has been increased with certain anti-depressant medications, and has helped recovery from OCD symptoms.
  • Stress can also make OCD symptoms much worse and adverse life events can bring OCD on in those with a tendency for OCD.
  • If loved ones reassure an OCD sufferer that they did turn the oven off or did lock the door, for example, this can lead to the sufferer not getting the outside help they need to recover. These thought processes need to be challenged, not just accepted as OK.

DIAGNOSIS

Although one might not want to tell their doctor about their symptoms as they feel ridiculous or embarrassed, it is essential to discuss it with a doctor to be able to find the right treatment. This is also important with family or friends as one might keep their obsessions and compulsions to themselves so no-one knows. There is nothing to be ashamed of. This disorder can become very destructive and long term if not treated, leading to feelings of hopelessness.

OCD severity – how much do your symptoms affect your ability to function on a day to day basis?

If obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour occupy:

Less than one hour of your day = mild

One to three hours of your day = moderate

More than three hours of your day = severe

TREATMENT

Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) and Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) anti-depressants are best known to treat OCD – the intensity of treatments will depend on how severe the symptoms are.  If necessary, anti-psychotics may also be prescribed as well as the above.

CBT works as ‘Exposure and response prevention’ which is basically working on a variety of situations and examples that cause the anxiety, obsession and compulsion. One has to experience the situation that causes their obsession/compulsion but NOT to carry out the compulsion.  So, in the example above, it would be to NOT go home and check that the door is locked. Stay out and challenge their thoughts and feelings. When they get home and find that it was locked and it was OK not to go back earlier, it begins the process of new thoughts on the subject. One has to prioritise each obsession and work on each one until they are diminished.

Depression can co-occur with OCD and if the depression becomes severe the sufferer may sometimes have suicidal feelings.  It is VERY important to get help, support and treatment.

You do not have to fight your problems alone!

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