Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours and can affect men, women, and children too.
The onset of OCD is most often in adolescence, although a subset of young people will develop symptoms before the age of 10 years. Childhood-onset is generally more prevalent in boys than girls, whilst adolescent-onset tends to affect both genders and occurs alongside several other developmental changes in the maturing brain.
Interestingly, OCD is more prevalent in young people who have a close relative who also has an anxiety-based disorder.
When it comes to the most common symptoms of OCD, we tend to find that obsessions and compulsions can vary from person to person. That being said, we can usually characterise them into five specific groups; these include:
Again, this is another common OCD conversation point, especially during recent years due to the Covid-19 outbreak. There are two types of contamination OCD. The first is the thought that people can spread non-viral illnesses through touch or proximity. People with this type of OCD will be seen washing their hands repeatedly or cleaning items to avoid contamination.
The second type is that everyday things, thoughts, or even words can contaminate a person, making that person feel unclean. In more serious cases, a person may well consider avoiding friends or family if they think that they have been contaminated.
This is when certain ideas can get stuck in the head of someone and drive them to distraction. These might be religious or philosophical problems, such as ‘what is the meaning of life?’, ‘how can I achieve world peace?’ or similar.
People who experience such considerations may find that they cannot stop thinking about anything else and often spend hours focusing on that one question only. Because there is rarely an obvious answer to these questions, they may feel unsatisfied or frustrated at not being able to arrive at an answer.
This is perhaps the most obvious and well-known form of OCD. You may hear of people who have obsessions about things being in the right place or order. For example, a person may feel the need to ensure all labels on the food in their cupboards face outwards or that everything on the kitchen counter is in a neat line.
While many people may read this symptom and think, ‘I do that,’ the key here is understanding when you are doing this to the detriment of having a normal daily existence. For instance, if you can’t sleep worrying whether the cinnamon label is facing forward, you may wish to seek further help.
This is an obsession in which a person will be deeply concerned about causing damage or harm by being careless. Their compulsions might include checking doors several times to ensure they are locked, ensuring the oven is turned off multiple times or checking that a baby is still breathing several times a night.
While this can be very time-intensive, it can also frustrate the person if someone questions them over it.
This is when a person will have difficulty making decisions and then doubting the validity of those decisions. Sometimes, the content of the obsessions can relate to a decision that has been made in the past or are likely to be made in the future.
The compulsion then creeps in and drives the behaviours that may be comparing more and more options, adding more choices and finding oneself increasingly paralysed by the decision-making process. Over time this can become more elaborate and completely exhausting, as hours become days of obsessive thinking and compulsions.
People will experience OCD in very different ways and indeed cope with the condition in different ways too, but the key thing to keep in mind is that leaving the condition untreated can often lead to some challenging circumstances.
We often find that the condition can spiral out of control quite quickly. For instance, what might start as simply washing one’s clothes after going outside can result in that person having to throw items away for fear of contamination.
It’s easy to brush off OCD as just a minor personality trait. After all, I’m sure we’ve all said someone is a ‘little OCD’ simply because they are being extra clean, but it’s essential to remember that there can be some devastating consequences to this condition if left untreated.
As such, my advice is to always err on caution. Seek advice and tackle any concerns early on.
Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a UK and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor.