Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a well-known mental health disorder, but not well understood. How many times have you heard a friend say “I’m so OCD, I have to keep my kitchen spotless! Or “I’m so OCD I color code my t-shirts!” We as a society have adopted the word “OCD” as a synonym for someone who is clean and orderly.
In reality, obsessive compulsive disorder can be a debilitating and pervasive. This mental health awareness month, right after OCD awareness week (October 11-16), we’ll discuss what OCD can really look like, which might inspire you to remove OCD from your vocabulary when talking about how often you clean your bathroom mirror. Although this touches on a few symptoms, this not nearly an exhaustive list of what OCD can look like.
For more and information, check out the International OCD Foundation.
UNCONTROLLABLE, INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS
A hallmark of OCD is uncontrollable and unwanted thoughts. These thoughts can be so intrusive that they can make the person with OCD believe things that are not true. These thoughts can look like, “If I do not follow a specific set of rules, something terrible will happen to my family.” Or “I am afraid I will harm someone I love.” They might even be intrusive, sexually disturbing thoughts.
COMPULSIONS THAT GO BEYOND CLEANING
Compulsions are behaviors those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder engage in usually due to their intrusive thoughts or strict set of beliefs. Even if those with OCD do not want to perform a compulsion, they feel a strong urge to do so, usually to feel some relief from obsessions and intrusive thoughts. This can be cleaning and washing hands for fear of becoming ill or becoming contaminated with germs, but it can also be compulsively saying prayers to make sure you are not morally contaminated, hoarding for fear that you may throw out something important, counting, checking household items, even saying words out loud in the belief that if they perform these specific activities, something imagined and harmful might happen.
These thoughts and behaviors can become unbearable.
Those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be aware their thoughts are intrusive and may even find themselves calling them ridiculous, but that does not stop the thoughts or the behaviors that seem to alleviate them for a little while. In a 2019 review of studies on OCD, researchers found that those with OCD are at a higher risk for suicide than the rest of the population. An increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts are seen in those with increased intrusive thoughts and compulsions.
If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide and need support, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). If you feel you or a loved one are in immediate danger of completing suicide, Call 911. ALso, you can make an appointment with one of our trained counselors to discuss how you can manage Obsessive Compulsive Disorder .
OCD is not the same as organizing your book shelf alphabetically or vacuuming your rug every Thursday. It is a mental illness that impacts over two million people in the US. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be intense and debilitating. Fortunately, there are methods of therapy and medical interventions that can alleviate symptoms and help those with OCD live happy, healthy lives.
Suicide Risk in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Exploration of Risk Factors: A Systematic Review, Umberto Albert, Diana De Ronchi, Giuseppe Maina, Maurizio Pompili, Curr Neuropharmacol. 2019 Aug; 17(8): 681–696. Published online 2019 Aug.