Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition. A person with the condition has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. OCD can be distressing and significantly interfere with a person’s life, but treatment can help keep it under control.

Symptoms of OCD

OCD affects men, women and children and can develop at any age. Some people develop the condition early, often around puberty, but it typically develops during early adulthood.

If you have OCD, you'll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

  • an obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease
  • a compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought

For example, someone with an obsessive fear of their house being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave the house.

Getting help for OCD

People with OCD are often reluctant to seek help because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.

But there's nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. It's a health condition like any other.

Visit your GP – your GP will ask about your symptoms and can refer you to a local psychological therapy service if necessary.

If you think a friend or family member may have OCD, try talking to them about your concerns and suggest they seek help.

OCD is unlikely to get better without proper treatment and support.

Treatments for OCD

There are some effective treatments for OCD that can help reduce the impact the condition has on your life.

The main treatments are:

  • psychological therapy – usually a special type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without "putting them right" with compulsions
  • medication – usually a type of antidepressant medication that can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain

CBT will usually have an effect quite quickly. It can take several months before you notice the effects of treatment with medication, but most people will eventually benefit.

If these treatments don't help, you may be offered an alternative medication or combination of medication. Some people may be referred to a specialist mental health service for further treatment.

Causes of OCD

It's not clear exactly what causes OCD. A number of different factors may play a role in the condition.

These include:

  • family history – you're more likely to develop OCD if a family member has it, possibly because of your genes
  • differences in the brain – some people with OCD have areas of unusually high activity in their brain or low levels of a chemical called serotonin
  • life events – OCD may be more common in people who've experienced bullying, abuse or neglect and it sometimes starts after an important life event, such as childbirth or a bereavement
  • personality – neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards 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

Support groups

Living with OCD can be difficult. As well as getting medical help, you might find it helps to contact a support group or other people with OCD for information and advice, see more useful links below.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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