What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is a mental disorder that includes obsessions and/or compulsions. Most people experience both obsessions and compulsions. These obsessions and compulsions are very upsetting, and cause great distress and impairment.

There are an estimated 112 million suffering from OCD in the world.

How Common is OCD?

If you suffer from OCD symptoms, you are not alone. About 1.2% of people in the United States are diagnosed with OCD each year. There are an estimated 112 million suffering from OCD in the world, and it is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

The average age that OCD becomes clinically significant is around 19 and a half years old. That being said, it can start in early childhood, with males often getting the disorder earlier. Additionally, most people have some symptoms before the disorder reaches a clinically significant threshold.

What Causes OCD?

There are several factors that work together to cause OCD: genetics, life events, personality, and the environment. Individuals with parents who have been diagnosed with OCD are also at a higher risk of developing OCD. There is no known single cause, but there are many predispositions. OCD can also be caused in young children by an infection known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated (PANDAS). This causes OCD in some young children as a result of Streptococcal Infections (such as strep throat).

Do I Have OCD?

If you experience obsessions and/or compulsions, you should talk to a licensed mental health professional, like a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. You should seek help if the obsessions or compulsions cause you great distress and take up a great deal of your time. Additionally, it often affects close family members almost as much as the sufferer when severe, as the obsessions and compulsions spill over into the household, and every facet of the sufferers life.

Obsessions: Recurrent and persistent thoughts, feelings, images, or urges that are unwanted and cause a great deal of anxiety or distress.

Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors (hand-washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or rigid rules. These behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress or preventing some dreaded situation; however, these behaviors/mental acts are not realistically connected to what they are trying to prevent, or are clearly excessive.

Is there a cure for OCD? What are the treatment options?

No complete or permanent cure for OCD exists; however, with proper treatment the symptoms can be made much more manageable, or kept completely under control. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common technique used for people struggling with OCD. This method teaches people with OCD how to confront their fears and reduce anxiety without acting out on compulsions. The most effective type of CBT for OCD is called Exposure and Response/Ritual Prevention (abbreviated as either ERP or EX/RP).

A doctor may also prescribe antidepressant medications as these can reduce obsessions, but for best results medication should be used in combination with ERP therapy. ERP is the best and most durable solution for OCD. If someone is properly treated with ERP, the OCD can be very well controlled if not almost eliminated. However, even if the OCD is mostly gone, the sufferer will need to be on guard to prevent it from returning. So, relapse prevention is an important part of treatment as well.

Each time a person with OCD gives into an obsession by performing a compulsion, it strengthens the OCD. The opposite also holds true that each time one does not give into the obsessions, the fear weakens. So, with ERP one is in effect strengthening the brain. This is more than just willpower though. Most OCD sifferers have tried to resist the obsessions, but it must be done properly to work, and so willpower alone is not enough. ERP takes a graduate approach, and this has been scientifically developed and proven, to give people the tools to control their OCD.

Help from Family and Friends

It is important to realize that the behaviors performed by someone suffering from OCD are caused by the illness and are not intentional.

The symptoms of OCD may lead to social withdrawal, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It is important for close family members and friends to be there for an individual suffering from OCD, and let them to know that they can get help. A therapist can help loved ones know how to best respond to the suffer's distress.

It is also important to recognize the warning signs of suicidal thoughts, as suicidal thoughts occur in up to as many as half of those suffering with OCD.

More about getting help for OCD...