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Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things, or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

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People casually talk about being “obsessed” or even use the term “OCD” in a casual context. What is the distinction between normal, or even “quirky,” behavior, such as liking a very clean house, and the disorder?

The often off-hand or casual way OCD is referred to in the media or in everyday conversion may make it seem that the obsessions or compulsions are just something annoying or amusing that a person could “get over.” But for people with OCD it’s not a simple annoyance, it is all-consuming anxiety associated with the obsessive thoughts.

Many people will at times have concerning thoughts or prefer a clear routine and structure. But for people with OCD, the thoughts become overwhelming and create a great deal of anxiety. Compulsions associated with OCD disrupt normal daily activities. A diagnosis of OCD requires that the obsession or compulsions take more than one hour a day and cause major distress or cause problems at home, work or other function. More

I have OCD, any suggestions on how to talk to family and friends about it?

Talking about your ODC and deciding who to tell are personal decisions. Family and friends can be an important source of support and understanding. They may have noticed changes in your behavior and talking about it could provide them with a better understanding and the ability to be more supportive.

In addition to the basic information on this help page, suggestions for other sources of information include the National Institute on Mental Health – NIMH-OCD page, the International OCD Foundation and NAMI’s OCD page.

Personal stories of people living with OCD can also be very useful in helping someone understand what it is like. Some examples include

More

Will OCD symptoms typically get worse over time if a person does not get treated?

Some people with mild OCD improve without treatment. More moderate or severe OCD usually requires treatment. However, there are often periods of time when the symptoms get better. There may also be times when symptoms get worse, such as when a person is stressed or depressed. More

I have a family member recently diagnosed with ODC, how can I best help and support her?

Try to learn as much as you can about OCD, what it’s like, and what options are available to treat and manage the disorder. Remember to view compulsive behaviors as part of a medical condition and not personality traits or a matter of simple choice. Recognize small accomplishments – what may seem like a small change may actually take significant effort. Be patient – remember progress may be slow and symptoms may increase or decrease at times. Be mindful of changes — any change, including positive change, can be stressful and increase OCD symptoms. Work together with your family member to develop a family plan with agreed upon actions for managing symptoms. For example, set limits on discussions relating to obsessions/compulsions. Assistance from a mental health professional may be useful. More

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About the Expert:

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.
Director of Education
American Psychiatric Association

Allen’s Story

Allen, a 22-year old gay man, came to a mental health clinic for treatment of anxiety. He worked full-time as a janitor and engaged in a very few activities outside of work. When asked about anxiety, Allen said he was worried about contracting diseases such as HIV.

Read More

Have a Story of Your Own to Share?

Editor's Choice

OCTOBER 5, 2018

Dr. Phil Kronk: What you should know about obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors

Knox News

You are not alone if you suffer from an anxiety. At times, the world can feel overwhelming. While we tend to see television commercials for depression or for bipolar disorder, the reality is that anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental suffering in our country. One of five adults report some form of anxiety each year, but only slightly more than one third of these individuals receive treatment and relief from their suffering.

OCTOBER 4, 2018

John Green on how he deals with Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder

CBS News

He feels their pain. He gives them hope. He defends the nerds. To millions of his young fans, John Green is a towering figure. While you may not have heard of the author John Green, be assured that the teenagers in your life have. Green has become wildly popular thanks largely to his loyal teenage audience. Green is also the rare literary talent who doubles as a podcaster and a YouTube star. His success stems from his intuitive understanding of adolescents, his ability to meet them on their level and on their devices.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2018

FDA Approves Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The Mighty

FDA Approves Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) as a new treatment option for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Following successful use in treating depression, the FDA officially expanded the therapy’s approval for OCD patients in August. OCD is typically treated with psychiatric medication and therapies such as cognitive behavioral Therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy (EP). However, when these options don’t work, TMS may be a safe and effective alternative treatment. TMS is a magnetic stimulation technique that targets nerves in the brain thought to impact mental illness.

JULY 23, 2018

Are of Higher Latitude Tied to Elevated OCD Risk

Medscape

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more common in people living in areas of high latitude, likely because of the effect of decreased sunlight on circadian rhythms, new research suggests. Investigators reviewed studies from more than 200 countries and identified 24 estimations of lifetime prevalence of OCD in the general population. They found that the prevalence of OCD increased as latitude increased, even when controlling for other potential factors.

JULY 23, 2018

Perfectionism in young children may indicate obsessive-compulsive disorder risk: Study

Timesnownews.com

Does your child act finicky, even for small things? Beware, that perfectionism and excessive self-control behaviour could be a predictor of the risk of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in teenage, finds a study. The study involving brain scans revealed that the perfectionists had smaller volumes of a brain structure called the anterior cingulate cortex – an anatomical feature in the brain that previously has been linked to OCD in adults. They were also twice as likely as others to develop OCD by the time they reach their teenage.

JULY 19, 2018

What it's like to be a parent when you have obsessive compulsive disorder

Metro.co.uk

She tells Metro.co.uk: 'Being a lifelong sufferer these things have changed over the years. Currently, I have difficulty leaving the house because I have concerns about not locking the front door properly. I spend a lot of time checking before actually leaving.' When it comes to advice for fellow OCD parents, Charlotte adds: 'There is so much help and support available out there to you. Your GP is a good starting point. Speaking with other parents who have OCD is a good way of feeling less alone and swapping coping tips and strategies.'

MAY 3, 2018

6 Signs of OCD—Because There's More to It Than Constant Hand Washing

Prevention

We all know someone who says they're 'so OCD' about cleaning their house or washing their hands. The good news is, they're probably wrong. 'Just because you like things orderly and wash your hands a little bit more than the average person doesn't mean you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),' says Jon Abramowitz, PhD, director of the UNC Anxiety Clinic who specializes in OCD treatment.

Resources

Additional Resources and Organizations

Physician Reviewed

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.
Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
July 2017