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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.

Many people have focused thoughts or repeated behaviors. But these do not disrupt daily life and may add structure or make tasks easier. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent and unwanted routines and behaviors are rigid and not doing them causes great distress. Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not true; others may think they could be true (known as poor insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not true, people with OCD have a hard time keeping their focus off the obsessions or stopping the compulsive actions.

Read more on 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

Editor's Choice

APR 3, 2020

For Those With O.C.D., a Threat That Is Both Heightened and Familiar
New York Times

The coronavirus outbreak has turned many of us into nervous germophobes, seeking to protect ourselves from infection by washing our hands methodically and frequently, avoiding unnecessary contact with so called high-touch surfaces and methodically sanitizing packages, our homes and our bodies. For people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or O.C.D., the worry created by the threat of coronavirus has the potential for more intense and longer-lasting implications.

APR 2, 2020

Living With OCD During the Coronavirus Crisis

McLean Hospital News Release

“There’s a large perception that people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are struggling more than usual as we deal with the coronavirus. In reality, it’s a pretty complex picture,” said Nathaniel Van Kirk, PhD, coordinator of Clinical Assessment for McLean’s OCD Institute. “For some, it may exacerbate their symptoms.” Others, however, are experiencing no change at all. “I’ve talked to many people with OCD who have said they don’t feel overly concerned with COVID-19. It’s not one of the things they worry about, and it pales in comparison to some of the other worries that they may have,” he said.

MAR 11, 2020

Reducing Your Conscience: Living With OCD

NYU Washington Square News

A personal narrative about living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Six years ago, you realized something was wrong with your brain. The therapist had finally put a name to the strange, repetitive mental quirks that had been riddling you with anxiety for months: You had OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It was the reason why you washed your hands countless times a day, why you were so scared of germs. It was the reason why you had a strange fixation on religious and moral values.

Resources

Additional Resources and Organizations

Physician Reviewed

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