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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – You Can’t Always See It

Feb 14th 2020 at 4:48 AM

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that’s characterised by rituals and compulsions used to rid the sufferer of distressing intrusive thoughts. There is a common perception of OCD (not helped by TV shows like, ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners’ and others similar), that it’s just an enjoyment or obsession with cleaning. Cleaning can become an obsession or a compulsion for a sufferer of OCD, but many people diagnosed with OCD find it affects them in different ways to that.

For example, recently I spoke to somebody who had experienced harm OCD. Harm OCD is when you experience intrusive thoughts about harm you might cause to yourself or other people. It can lead to avoidance behaviour. In a mother or a father, this might mean they avoid holding or being near their child because they worry they might harm them. It can also mean things like driving down a road several times to check that you didn’t run somebody over without realising. Another person I have spoken to that struggles with OCD has spent up to 6 hours performing compulsions (checking every single thing in his house), and during this time everybody in the house has to remain completely silent – if they make a sound, things don’t feel ‘right’, so he has to start all over again, or face a panic attack.

Everybody has intrusive thoughts. It’s completely normal to have thoughts ‘appear’ that could be something you don’t agree with. However, people with OCD become very anxious or distressed about these thoughts. They doubt themselves and ruminate over them, and in a lot of cases they convince themselves that they are terrible people because of their intrusive thoughts.

With OCD, intrusive thoughts lead to compulsions or rituals that may help the person relieve their anxiety for a short time. These rituals and compulsions can be obvious, like the ones mentioned above, or other things like compulsive hand-washing. However some compulsions are a lot less noticeable. A common compulsion would be reassurance seeking – somebody with OCD might steer the conversation in a direction that will end up reassuring them about their intrusive thoughts. Counting and checking can also be done mentally – checking thoughts, checking memories etc. The worst part is that all of these things only lead to further self-doubt and anxiety in the long run.

Although OCD can be very extreme and debilitating, there are treatments available for it that can really make a difference. Most people with OCD have obsessive tendencies, meaning that even when the condition is manageable or nearly ‘cured’, it is possible to become worse again. This is why treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder includes coping mechanisms that can be used in every day life, whether it be through exposure response prevention therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy. Some patients require antidepressants (usually SSRIs) alongside their treatment, as treatment can be quite intense and raise anxiety levels for a while. However, antidepressants alone are not usually the answer to obsessive compulsive disorder, so it’s important when visiting a GP to request to be referred to specialist services.

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