Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that is characterized by obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions are unwanted repeating thoughts, mental pictures, or urges that create strong feelings of distress. Obsessive thoughts usually focus on fear, worry, or possible negative outcomes. Examples include repeating thoughts about contracting an illness or non-stop fears of failing in school. Some people with OCD experience obsessive thoughts as “invading their minds,” and then feel as sense of “looping” around and around the same unwanted/unstoppable thoughts. Obsessions are upsetting even though they may focus on unrealistic concerns.
Compulsions are rituals such as repeated behaviors or mental acts, for example: checking locks, washing hands, or counting. The rituals are typically used as a way to relieve tension and anxiety that build due to obsessive thoughts. The ritual may not be related to the original obsessive thought. For example, a person with repeated fears of failing exams may use checking door locks to relieve tension.
Obsessions and compulsions occur in cycles, with an unwanted thought followed by rising tension, and then a ritual act (which may provide temporary relief) and often a return of the tension after a period of time. The symptoms of OCD interfere with daily life and may take up a great deal of time and energy.
OCD usually begins during adolescence or young adulthood, but sometimes can start earlier or later in life. While the cause is not fully known, having a family history of OCD increases your risk of having OCD.
If you have or believe you may have symptoms of OCD, the following advice is for you.
- talk to your parents
- seek professional help
- tell your doctor every symptom
- attend a support group
- report any serious side effects to your doctor
- be ashamed to ask for help with OCD
- be afraid to speak up
- give up before treatments have a chance to work
- change your treatment without consulting your doctor
- stop your treatment as soon as you start feeling better
Obsessions and compulsions can be very distressing. You’ll likely need emotional support from your parents. In addition, your parents may need to help you find treatment. Your parents are a valuable resource for helping you when you are in need.
OCD can be serious and disabling. If you have a strong relationship with a primary care physician, you may wish to contact him or her first. However, you will likely need a mental health professional or team. OCD is less common than depression or other types of anxiety and therefore may require care from a specialist.
Even if a certain feeling or emotion seems unrelated, tell your doctor about every symptom you are experiencing. Some symptoms can help your doctor pinpoint the cause of your OCD and others can help him or her choose the best treatment to help you.
Since OCD is uncommon, you may benefit from a support group to learn about the illness and also to help you connect with others who suffer from similar symptoms. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers groups for people who suffer from mental illnesses and for their families.
Once you begin receiving treatment for OCD, tell your doctor right away if you have any problems you believe may be caused by your treatment. All medications can have side effects, and talk therapies can have side effects as well.
Many people who experience obsessions and compulsions find them embarrassing to tell others. As a result, people may not get the treatment they need. If you have obsessions or compulsions, tell your parents and your doctor so you can get on the road to feeling better. There is no since in suffering in silence when you can get help.
From the first appointment, consider yourself a member of the team. Ask questions. People with OCD often go over and over treatment appointments in their minds. If you don’t understand something, or if a comment by your doctor or therapist is likely to worry you until your next appointment, speak up! You should always feel comfortable with the care you are receiving.
Treatments for OCD won’t cure your symptoms right away. Hang in there and give your treatment time to work. If you don’t get better, your doctor may change the plan until things improve.
Changing medication or a therapy program without permission can lead to relapse of serious health consequences. Always consult with your doctor when changing treatment or medication. If you’re wanting to change therapy because you think it would benefit you more, then you should speak with your mental health team to figure out the right way about changing treatment.
Many people want to stop mental health treatment as soon as they begin feeling better, but this is a mistake. OCD symptoms are likely to return until you have had a long period of stability. Ask your doctor how long you should continue the treatments once your symptoms are fully controlled.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) consists of obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions and compulsions interfere with life and cause strong feelings of distress. If you have symptoms of OCD, there are effective treatments to help you. Get help and tell your doctor everything you are experiencing. Find a support group. And after you start treatment be sure to tell your doctor about any serious side effects of your treatment.
Don’t be ashamed of your symptoms or afraid to be part of the team. Make sure you give treatments a chance to work, stay on the plan, and never stop a treatment as soon as you feel better. Instead ask your doctor when you can end a treatment.