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
Using “power statements” can help people with serious mental illness clarify and communicate their personal goals for medication and treatment, according to a new study. A power statement is a short, self-advocacy statement prepared by a patient based on a template. The study found that people with serious mental illness typically view medications not only as a way to address symptoms, but as a means to pursue meaningful life goals.
The stigma, prejudice and discrimination of mental illness can be a major barrier for many people living with mental illness seeking and getting the help they need. It can make people avoid disclosing a mental health condition at work over concerns of being treated differently or even losing their job. Internalizing these negative stereotypes and perceptions (self-stigma) can further contribute to challenges.
You may have heard the phrase “trigger warning” to joke about a person’s perceived inability to deal with difficult subjects or adverse opinions. When it comes to mental health, learning about triggers can be an important step on the path to wellness.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Mental Health America
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
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
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
About the Expert:
Tristan Gorrindo, M.D. Director of Education American Psychiatric Association
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. More
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FEB 21, 2017
One of the illnesses I suffer from is obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD and I want to talk about it. Firstly some definitions: Obsessive-compulsive disorder comes in two parts, obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions, also known as intrusive thoughts, in this context are unpleasant thoughts, images or impulses that will persistently recur and resist any attempts to ignore them or confront them. Compulsions are ritual behaviours taken by an individual often either as an attempt to drive away the unpleasant obsession, to cleanse themselves of it or to prevent the thought form becoming reality.
FEB 18, 2017
Over any year, 1% of us suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But none of the usual human motivations explain behaviours that we feel irresistibly driven to engage in — compulsions. Compulsions come from a need that is desperate and tortured. They may bring relief, but they bring little enjoyment, and while one part of our brain desperately wishes to stop them, another is afraid of stopping.
FEB 6, 2017
In recent years, the term “OCD” entered into the vernacular — people have started to say, “Oh, you are so OCD!” when their friends are worried about seemingly silly things. But, what does the term really mean? In a person with OCD the rise in anxiety is so strong that the person feels that he or she must perform the task or dwell on the thought over and over again, to the point where it interferes with everyday life.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
International OCD Foundation
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute on Mental Health
Physician Review By:
Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.
Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.