Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is a mental illness categorized by the presence of obsession or compulsion. Obsession is defined by repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations, while compulsion is the urge to do an activity repeatedly. Those with OCD may have either obsession, compulsion, or both. OCD can also be identified as one of four types. The first, checking, is compulsive behavior based around repeatedly checking, out of fear that something bad may happen, whether intentionally or not. An example would be checking if the front door is closed, checking if the oven is off, etc. Contamination is a form of OCD that is characterized by an obsession over contracting an illness or spreading germs. This causes intrusive thoughts, which in turn may cause someone to turn to compulsive behavior to relieve anxiety or distress. Mental contamination is a form of this that can be triggered by thoughts, memories, images, or association with someone who has harmed them before. Symmetry, also known as orderliness, is a display of compulsive behavior associated with arranging and ordering objects. And finally, rumination, or intrusive thoughts, are an obsession over thought which can cause someone to spend a lot of time worrying about, analyzing, and trying to understand their thoughts. This can appear as unwanted thoughts that are violent or disturbing.
Here are some misconceptions about OCD. According to the International OCD Foundation, people believe that “we are all a little bit OCD at times” but the fact is that it is a real mental health condition wherein millions in the US alone are affected, people with OCD can’t simply “turn off” their condition, as well as their brain, is wired differently than a person who doesn’t have the condition. Second is “OCD is not that a big of a deal, people just need to relax and not worry so much”, OCD is not simply an overreaction to the stresses of life, people with OCD face severe, often debilitating anxiety over any number of things, called “obsessions.” To try to overcome this anxiety, people with OCD use “compulsions” or rituals, which are specific actions or behaviors. Lastly “People with OCD are just weird, neurotic, or crazy and there is no hope for them to ever lead happy functional lives”, with proper treatment, it is very possible for people with OCD to lead full and productive lives. Many people respond positively to behavioral therapy and/or medication. Many individuals report that support groups are very helpful. Support groups provide a safe, understanding place for people with OCD to feel less alone, as well as to teach and learn from their peers. These are just some that people think about OCD, we need to educate people for them to learn more about the condition as well they can dismiss their assumptions.
The causes that bring about OCD are not what one might associate the illness with. It is not because someone said something frightening and the other person agreed, or that any of their erratic thoughts will come true. It instead stems from environmental, risk, and genetic factors which can all impact a person differently. A few of the environmental aspects include: traumatic experiences, abuse, or infections and illnesses. The risk factors are: witnessing or being abused, family history of mental illness, negative thought patterns, and hiding or ignoring emotions. And the genetic factors include things like a parent having OCD and then passing it unto their child.
Now, we’ve gone over some causes of OCD, but what are the effects it can have on the individual diagnosed with it? In the short term, severe OCD can make functioning in the way generally expected of member society difficult. Intrusive thoughts can cause the individual to become zoned out/lost in their head for periods of time which can prevent them from doing tasks that require full attention, such as driving. People with OCD’s ‘obsessions’ can also be triggered by something at any moment which forces them to complete their ‘compulsion’ or ritual to relieve their extreme anxiety, which uses up their time and energy; these situations are also very stressful for the suffering individual. They could have trouble at school or work because their OCD prevents them from doing certain tasks and uses up a lot of their time and energy meant for work, as performing these compulsions are mentally, and can be physically, exhausting. As with many mental illnesses, having OCD can make you feel isolated and alone around your friends and family, and, as an anxiety disorder, symptoms of OCD can tend to be dismissed by those close to the individual suffering by saying harmful things like, “Stop worrying,” or “That’s irrational/untrue.”. Long term effects are usually due to the poor quality of life long-time sufferers of OCD can experience. Being in a constant state of crippling anxiety is detrimental to one’s mental health, and social isolation and/or lack of proper treatment for OCD can result in depression. As with other mental illnesses, people with OCD have an increased risk of substance abuse such as alcohol or drugs. Oftentimes, people suffering with OCD have other coexisting disorders. These disorders include, but are not limited to: other anxiety disorders (ex. GAD, SAD, panic disorder), bipolar disorders, eating disorders (ex. anorexia, bulimia), Tourette syndrome, BDD, hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, and major depressive disorder. These can further damage one’s mental health and make it even more difficult to function in society in the ways that are generally expected of people.
Written by Cassidy Whaley, research done by Sivani Manoj and Anchita Ganesh from the Revive team.