Three in every hundred Australians (equal to 450, 000 people) will develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at some point in their lives. World Health Organisation reported that OCD became one of the top 20 causes of illness related disability for ages 15-44 years of age. Cases of OCD are most likely to be diagnosed during childhood and adolescence.
OCD affects all races and all ages, although some people keep the problem to themselves. If you observe the following symptoms, refer a loved one or a friend to medical professionals if the condition affects the person’s day to day life.
- fear of germ contamination
- fear of causing harm or being harmed
- fixation on moral and religious ideas
- overly superstitious
#1 Not all OCD sufferers are neat freaks
Although the common misconception about people with OCD is that they’re crazy about cleanliness and neatness, not all sufferers exhibit these characteristics. Some may in fact have the tendency to be the opposite. Many OCD sufferers hoard things at their home and let everything pile up.
#2 But the majority of OCD sufferers exhibit neatness and cleanliness
Use of hand sanitizer and hand washing is often prevalent among people with OCD. This often stems from the fear of germ contact, but another deep rooted psychological reason is their fear of contaminating others or of being impure.
Some people with OCD go to great lengths to keep the surfaces they come in contact with clean. Others use hand protection such as gloves all the time.
#3 Obsessive checking behaviour
Everybody has a tendency to check on things twice. However, if you tend to check things more than three times, it could be a sign of OCD. Some might laugh at people who check locked doors or the oven ten times. Although this looks like a safety precaution, this behaviour may in fact stem from an anxious fear of getting hurt or being irresponsible.
#4 Obsessive counting behaviour
I must admit, I experienced this when I was a child. I would count the syllables of things I read, things I hear from my parents, my teachers and playmates. If I wasn’t counting on my fingers, I’d do it in my head over and over. I got over this, but I do still have the tendency to do it from time to time. In my case, it could just be a personality quirk rather than a sign of OCD.
Counting things and equating tasks in numeric patterns is a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD sufferers do this when they climb the stairs or when they see signs and numbers. Some people may have this tendency but can still function normally. Others may not be able to get the numbers out of their heads and it affects their day to day dealings.
#5 Obsessive order and symmetry
It’s one thing to be organised, but it’s another thing entirely to focus on unnecessary orderliness and symmetry. Our hands may tingle at the slight disorder of things like a wrongly placed tile, a differently colored brick in a wall or a different sized jar in a cabinet of same-sized jars. They are little tingles; people with OCD, however, tend to feel more than that. They may want to change things to match their preference or to fit with the status quo. They get feelings of anxiety when they are not allowed to change things to match.
The above picture of hangers may seem organised enough but people with OCD may still want to rearrange and regroup them based on colour.
#6 OCD is linked to serotonin production
OCD is linked to chemical transmissions in the brain. Those who are diagnosed with OCD are also diagnosed to have decreased levels of serotonin which regulates the body’s mood, anxiety, sleep and memory. Those who seek treatment for the condition are often prescribed with medications that increase serotonin levels in the brain.
#7 OCD sufferers fear harm and violence
The more people with OCD think about harmful consequences and violence, the more it affects their behaviour. For example, they may avoid certain places for the fear of being harmed to the point that they haven’t stepped in a particular place all their lives out of fear. It may also trigger them to make phone calls to family or friends every single time they fear for their safety. These misfortunes are always in their minds, so much so that if something were to happen, they may have a harder time coping.
#8 OCD affects kids
We often see adults who are affected by OCD. However, kids are also affected with the condition. According to statistics, at least 1 in every 200 kids and teens experiences OCD symptoms.
Kids often have worries and doubts. Although they are carefree at times, they may experience anxiety too. Some cases of displaced anxiety, constant worrying and inappropriate behaviour may be a sign of OCD. Like adults with OCD, children may also have the urge to keep everything neat, clean and organised, dread contact with dirty surfaces and fear harm. These often are projections of their anxiety; they do it to relieve the anxious feeling. Kids with OCD often have low self-esteem and feel embarrassed about their habits.
OCD in kids is most often diagnosed between the ages of 7 and 12. OCD is often said to occur together with conditions like ADHD, depression, disruptive behaviour disorder and PANS or Paediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome.
#9 BDD is a form of OCD
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is the disorder of “imagined ugliness”. A person with BDD often experiences anxiety and preoccupation over imagined body defects or perceived defects of their own physical appearance. They often think they’re flawed and spend a long amount of time in front of the mirror or avoiding mirrors and reflecting surfaces their whole life. It has been suggested that BDD belongs to the spectrum of obsessive compulsive disorder because sufferers experience an obsession with symmetry (thus their tendency to overdose on cosmetic procedures). They also exhibit compulsive tendencies like checking their appearance and picking their skin.
#10 OCD is treatable
Like all other medical conditions, OCD can be treated and managed. It’s most common and most effective treatments include Cognitive behavioural Therapy or CBT and medication. SRI’s or Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are also used for the treatment.
When therapies are required for OCD, it is done by professionals and must be done on regular basis for the treatment to be effective. When OCD won’t respond to outpatient basis of treatment, other options include day program at a mental health center, partial hospitalisation, residential treatment and inpatient treatment in a mental health hospital.
OCD treatment options often create an unfortunate stigma, propelling patients to keep their conditions secrets. This is where social support is most needed. Group therapies are often done in conjunction with other treatments to help patients get support from fellow OCD patients. Apart from that, support from family and friends may further help the treatment process.
OCD can’t be cured, but it can be treated and managed. There are several websites on the Internet offering help and valuable information for OCD sufferers, including sane.org and various online support groups. Remember, local therapy clinics conduct support groups for their patients. All in all, OCD is a condition that we should no longer stigmatise.