OCD is not just about keeping your bedroom super clean or arranging your vinyl collection in alphabetical order as might be suggested by some popular TV shows!
OCD is often trivialised in the media and it is not uncommon to hear people describe themselves as a bit ‘OCD’. In reality OCD refers to a serious and complex illness called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which causes symptoms that can be very distressing and have a big impact on people’s everyday lives.
People with OCD experience intrusive and frightening thoughts, feelings and images that repeat over and over again – these are called ‘obsessions’. They may also experience ‘compulsions’ – these are actions or rituals that people feel they need to carry out in order to relieve the anxiety caused by the thoughts, or to prevent the ‘bad thing’ in their thought from happening.
Obsessive or intrusive thoughts are often related to germs, dirt or disease, bad things happening to yourself or to your loved ones, or worries around religion or sexuality. Common compulsions include repeated handwashing, constant checking – that the door is locked for example, or counting or repeating a phrase over and over.
Many children and young people have mild obsessions and rituals, this is normal and is often a temporary reaction to stress, change or uncertainty in their lives. If these thoughts or behaviours start to cause distress or interfere with or disrupt daily life – school, friendships, hobbies, family activities– then it may be a sign that OCD is developing and you should talk to your GP/family doctor, school nurse or counsellor or someone else who can help you find specialist mental health support if this is needed.
OCD is a treatable condition and doesn’t mean you are weak, crazy or weird. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background, at any time. Several successful celebrities, sports stars and politicians have spoken out about their own struggles with OCD in recent years.
What causes OCD?
Some experts believe there is a genetic element to OCD, and it may run in families, others feel the symptoms are related to environmental causes or are the result of an anxious personality; some believe a chemical imbalance in the brain’s serotonin levels is to blame. The truth is we don’t really know what causes OCD and it is likely to be a combination of factors.
OCD symptoms are often triggered by or get worse when people are under stress or experiencing difficult events in their lives – such as losing a loved one, family break up, being in an accident, being under a lot of pressure at work or school, or being bullied.