Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition, an anxiety disorder, where a person experiences extreme anxiety and has recurrent unwanted thoughts, images or urges and repetitive behaviours. These unwanted, intrusive thoughts are classed as obsessions and the repetitive behaviours or compulsions are done in an attempt to make the obsessions go away.
Possible causes of OCD include:-
- Genetics – A person is more likely to develop OCD if another family member has it.
- Brain differences – Some research suggest that those who develop OCD have differences in certain parts of the brain. It is believed that people with OCD have increased activity and blood flow along with a lack of the brain chemical serotonin which regulates such things as mood, sleep, anxiety and memory.
- Life events – People with a history of abuse, neglect or isolation are more likely to develop OCD. Also, bereavement, a car accident, a relationship breakup, pregnancy or childbirth may trigger OCD in a person who is more prone to develop the condition due to genetics.
- Personality – People with certain personality traits are more likely to develop OCD. Those who are neat, meticulous, methodical and a perfectionist are more likely to develop OCD as are those who are anxious or have a strong responsibility to themselves or others.
Examples of the kinds of thoughts that a person with OCD may have include:-
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of harming oneself
- Fear of harming others
- Excessive concern with right or wrong
- Fear of shouting insults
- Fear of stealing things
- Fear of forgetting important information
- Unwanted sexual thoughts
- Fear of germs, bodily fluids or dirt
- Concern about exactness or evenness
- Concern with the need to know
Examples of the kinds of behaviours that a person with OCD may exhibit can include:-
- Repeated washing or cleaning, e.g. washing hands
- Putting things in the perceived right order/particular way
- Checking things multiple times, e.g. checking that no mistakes were made, checking the locks on the door
- Checking that nothing terrible has happened
- Checking the body or clothes for contamination
- Praying to prevent harm
- Counting to a certain number
- Repeatedly asking others to tell you that everything is OK
OCD can affect the individual and their life in the following ways:-
- OCD is time consuming and can interfere with a person’s day to day activities at home, at school and at work.
- The recurrent, intrusive thoughts or obsessions trigger severe anxiety which interfere with an individual’s daily functioning.
- A person with OCD can become withdrawn and isolated thereby losing friends.
- A person with OCD may suffer of discrimination and as a result may not get the help and support they need for their mental health problem.
- Their personal relationships can be impacted by their compulsive behaviour.
- Their job can be affected and they may find it difficult to keep a job as the obsessions and compulsions (thoughts and behaviours) interfere with normal functioning.
- A person with OCD avoids situations that makes an obsession worse which can have a significant impact on their life.
An individual’s OCD can affect others:-
- Others can become frustrated with the person’s ritualistic behaviour.
- A person’s OCD can be confusing and difficult for everyone to understand.
- The obsessions and compulsions can put a strain on family relationships as it greatly interferes with daily functioning.
- Others may feel angry and resentful by the person’s behaviour and the disruption that the condition can cause.
- Family and friends may become involved in the person’s rituals and have to assume responsibility for daily activities that the person is not able to perform.
- OCD can put a strain on marriages and family life as it can have emotional and financial burdens.
A person with OCD must learn to self- manage and can achieve this by doing the following:-
- Self-help materials such as books or websites can help a person manage their OCD.
- Peer support groups are a way for a person with OCD to meet others who are going through similar experiences. People can share coping strategies and feel less isolated.
- Charities can offer online support and local support groups.
- A person with OCD can learn to relax, manage their stress and try relaxation techniques and mindfulness.
- Sufficient sleep can give the person with OCD the energy to cope with the difficult feelings, thoughts and experiences.
- A healthy diet maintaining stable blood sugar levels can help with mood and energy levels.
- Regular exercise is beneficial to mental well-being and can distract the person with OCD from unwanted thoughts.
- A person with OCD can have a crisis plan which tells others what they want to take place in the event of a crisis. This relieves stress and anxiety about what could happen if they became unwell.
Other people can help a person with OCD manage their illness in various ways:-
- They can be patient with the person who has OCD; be calm and not judge the individual.
- They can reassure them that they still care and will support the person.
- Other people can find out as much as possible about OCD so that they understand the condition.
- Others can work with the individual to find the best approach and treatment.
They can encourage the person to challenge the compulsions where appropriate.
- They can offer emotional support to the person with OCD.
- As a carer, individuals can seek support to discuss and share experiences with others.
- Others can signpost the person with OCD to information so that the person can understand their condition and learn to manage it.
There are treatment options for those who experience OCD:-
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on thoughts, feelings and attitudes which influence behaviour. The therapist works with the person with OCD to adopt healthier ways of thinking which leads to more positive behaviour.
- Exposure and response prevention (ERP) deliberately exposes the person with OCD to obsessions and a therapist works with the individual to resist the urge to carry out the compulsions.
- Medication such as antidepressants, tranquilisers and beta-blockers deal with the anxiety associated with OCD.
- Peer support groups give a person with OCD the chance to meet with others who are going through the same experiences.
- Mindfulness classes help people change the way they perceive their experiences and deal with their stress and anxiety.
- Relaxation classes help a person deal with the anxiety that is a result of the OCD.
Ms Jolene King, Principal Consultant of 246 King Consulting, has over 15 years business management and HR international experience gained in the UK, USA and Barbados. 246 King Consulting offers services to medium and large organisations in absence management, employee health and well-being and occupational health referrals.