The term “OCD” is now so pervasive, the average person can cobble together a fair illustration of the range of behaviours displayed by sufferers of the condition, but how much does each of us really know about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder commonly referred to as OCD, is an anxiety disorder, where a sufferer experiences obsessions and/or compulsions because of an underlying anxiety. Although the terms are increasingly used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between obsessions and compulsions:
- Obsessions are continuous, seemingly unmanageable thoughts and impulses which constantly flood the mind. A sufferer may well be aware that the thoughts are pointless or nonsensical, but nevertheless feels powerless to stop them. The pervasiveness of these obsessive thoughts nearly always inhibits the sufferer’s ability to go about his or her everyday business to their full potential – he or she may well “get by”, but it’s an uphill struggle to manage life alongside the intrusive nature of the unwanted thoughts.
- Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts which attempt to neutralize the existing feeling of anxiety. The impact of compulsions on daily life is even worse than that of obsessions, as the necessity of carrying out the compulsion, possibly repeatedly over a number of hours may markedly interfere with other daily functions and roles.
An obsession is very commonly (although not necessarily) linked to a compulsion – for example a fear of contamination may lead to a need to wash repeatedly, while an obsession with security may lead to repeated checking and turning off of appliances or locking of doors.
Common Examples of Obsessions:
– safety and security
– sexual thoughts, urges or images
– violent thoughts, urges or images
Common Examples of Compulsions:
– cleanliness, avoidance of contamination
– order and symmetry
– hyper vigilance
– rituals, mental and physical
Although there is some evidence to suggest that genetic or biological conditions may play a role in predisposing some individuals to OCD, at base, this is a disorder in which obsessions and compulsions are an attempt to relieve the anxiety or unease caused by external or internal stimuli. Thus for example, where contamination through contact with is the fear, the related anxiety can be relieved by careful washing, or requiring the other to also wash.
OCD can be managed with combinations of SSRI and cognitive behavioural therapy, but continued relief requires diligence on the part of the sufferer in maintaining a behavioural and emotional equilibrium, especially as the risk of a return of the the obsessions and compulsions increases when an individual is exposed to extra levels of stress.