By Marcus Hoo
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily life. OCD was formerly classified as an anxiety disorder because people affected by this mental illness often experience severe anxiety as a result of obsessive thoughts. They may also engage in extensive rituals in an attempt to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions.
What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
The precise causes of OCD are unknown, but there are a few factors that are believed to play a role.
- Biological factors: One theory is that OCD comes from a breakdown in the circuit in the brain that filters or “censors” the many thoughts, ideas, and impulses that we have each day. If you have OCD, your brain may have difficulty deciding which thoughts and impulses to turn off. As a result, you may experience obsessions and/or compulsions. The breakdown of this system may be related to serotonin abnormalities.
- Family history: You may also be at greater risk if there is a family history of the disorder. Research has shown that if you, a parent, or a sibling have OCD, there is a 25% chance that another immediate family member will also have it.
- Genetics: OCD may be related to particular groups of genes, although not a single “OCD gene” has been identified.
- Stress: Stress from unemployment, relationship difficulties, problems at school, illness, or childbirth can be strong triggers for symptoms of OCD.
Symptoms of OCD usually appear gradually and can be long-lasting if not treated. People with OCD may experience symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both. Such symptoms interfere with many areas of life including school, work, relationships, and normal daily functioning.
Obsessions are thoughts, images, or ideas that will not go away, are unwanted, and are extremely distressing or worrying.
Some common symptoms of obsessions include:
- Aggressive thoughts about other people or one’s self
- A need to have everything in a certain order
- Fear of germs
- Unwanted thoughts of forbidden or taboo topics such as sex, religion, or harming others
Compulsions are behaviours that have to be done repeatedly to relieve anxiety. Compulsions are often related to obsessions. For example, if you are obsessed with being contaminated, you might feel compelled to wash your hands repeatedly. However, this is not always the case.
Some common compulsions include:
- Counting things over and over again
- Excessive washing or cleaning
- Ordering things in a particular or symmetrical way
- Repeated checking
How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) diagnosed?
The first step is to talk with your health care provider about your symptoms. Your provider should perform an examination and ask you about your medical history. He or she is making sure that a physical problem is not causing your symptoms.
But if it seems to be a mental problem, your provider may refer you to a mental health specialist for further evaluation or treatment.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can sometimes be hard to diagnose. Its symptoms are similar to those of other mental disorders, such as anxiety disorders. Furthermore, it is also possible to have both OCD and another mental disorder.
However not everyone who has obsessions or compulsions will have OCD. Your symptoms would usually be considered a form of OCD when you:
- Cannot control your thoughts or behaviours, even when you know that they are excessive
- Spend at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts or behaviours
- Do not receive pleasure when performing the behaviours. But doing them may briefly give you relief from the anxiety that your thoughts cause.
- Have significant problems in your daily life because of these thoughts or behaviours
What are the treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
The main treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), medicines, or both:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is a type of psychotherapy. It teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting. A specific type of behavioural therapy that can treat OCD is called Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP). EX/RP involves gradually exposing you to your fears or obsessions. You will learn healthy ways to deal with the anxiety they cause through this therapy.
- Medicines for OCD include certain types of antidepressants. It will depend on what your therapist will provide you with based on circumstances.
If you have been diagnosed with OCD, we will be able to help you seek therapy, check our therapists here: