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The Truth about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Posted on 01.04.2019

This February, from the 18th to the 24th, we observe OCD Week of Action. OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a mental health condition that causes sufferers to have obsessive thoughts and exhibit compulsive behaviours. Most people will have heard of the disorder but there is much misinformation that surrounds it. In honour of the Week of Action, we have put together a few facts about the condition and the realities of living with this particular mental health issue. 


Liking things neat doesn’t mean you have OCD 

Although a preoccupation with cleanliness is a common sign of OCD, liking things neat and clean does not necessarily mean you have the disorder. A cleanliness complex can be a personality trait - the main difference being that you still have control and can choose what you do. As Jeff Szymanski, PhD, executive director of the International OCD Foundation puts it, “If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you’re doing it out of unrelenting debilitating anxiety.”  


In addition to this, although fixating on cleanliness is common with OCD, it’s not the only compulsion - some people with OCD won’t have it at all. Other compulsions include: 

  • Repeating routines 

  • Hoarding 

  • Being afraid of something bad happening 

  • Checking over and over again for mistakes 


OCD is not caused by childhood trauma 

In popular culture, characters with OCD are often shown to have suffered in their formative years, a fact that seems to cause their condition. This is actually not the case, although research has started to show that OCD does run in families and, as a result, may have something to do with genetics. However, although traumatic events have been shown to spark OCD, these cases are not specifically childhood-related.  


Stress is also often blamed for OCD and, although it can exacerbate it, stress is not the root cause. There are a few other accepted causes, as well as genetics and trauma, including differences in the brain like high or low levels of serotonin. It can also be triggered by specific personality proclivities; according to the NHS website, if you are inclined to be ‘a neat, meticulous, methodical person with high personal standards, you may be more likely to develop OCD, as may those who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others.’  


OCD is not as uncommon as you may think 

An estimated 1.2% of the population in the UK have OCD, or 12 out of every 1,000 people. However, despite this, the number may actually be much higher due to the hundreds of people who choose to suffer in silence. The stigma surrounding obsessive-compulsive disorder is significant and those who have it may feel ashamed or label themselves as ‘mad’. This is totally incorrect - OCD is a mental health condition like any other and is not the fault of the person who has it.  


Although anxiety may be a condition that is typically associated with women, in actual fact, OCD affects men, women, and children and of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds equally. Symptoms can begin at any time but commonly manifest either between 10 and 12 or between late teens and early twenties.  


OCD is treatable but not curable 

If you have OCD, there are various treatments available. According to the NHS website, these are: 

To get started with either of these options, you will need to book an appointment with your GP or directly refer yourself to a psychological therapies service. OCD can also isolate sufferers socially, so finding a support group can also make a huge difference: 

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