Expert Q & A: OCD

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Expert Q & A: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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.

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.

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 information is available at "Living with Someone who had OCD. Guidelines for Family Members."

Does OCD run in families?

Yes, OCD is more common among people who have a family member who has the disorder. People with an immediate relative (parent or sibling) with OCD are two to five times more likely to experience OCD than someone without a close relative with OCD.

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About the Expert:

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

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