All Topics

Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a 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 without OCD have distressing thoughts or repetitive behaviors. However, these thoughts and behaviors do not typically disrupt daily life. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent, and behaviors are rigid. Not performing the behaviors commonly causes great distress. Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not realistic; others may think they could be true (known as limited insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not realistic, people with OCD have difficulty disengaging from the obsessive thoughts or stopping the compulsive actions.

Read more on symptoms & treatment 

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

APA Headshot - T Gorrindo 091317.jpg

About the Expert:

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

Editor's Choice

MAY 19 2021

Obsessive compulsive disorder: Volunteering 'a way of accepting what happened'
BBC News
A teenager whose obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) "took over" her life has said volunteering has become a "way of accepting what happened". Emily, 16, from Suffolk, said she was 11 when she started to "struggle with the OCD" and it gradually got worse for about four years. She has since received help and admitted it had "taken a while for me to kind of find who I am again".  Emily has now begun volunteering with the Anna Freud children's charity. She was speaking as local BBC radio stations launch the Make a Difference Happy Heads campaign, promoting opportunities to volunteer with organisations to support children and young people's mental health and well-being.

May 11, 2021
Online therapy effective against OCD symptoms in the young
Science Daily 
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children and adolescents is associated with impaired education and worse general health later in life. Access to specialist treatment is often limited. According to a new study, internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be as effective as conventional CBT. The study can help make treatment for OCD more widely accessible.

April 27, 2021
No, OCD in a pandemic doesn’t necessarily get worse with all that extra hand washing
The Conversation
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were concerned infection control measures such as extra hand washing and social distancing might compound the distress of people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Resources

Additional Resources and Organizations

Physician Reviewed
Hector Colon-Rivera, M.D., CMRO
Molly Howland, M.D.
December 2020