Mental Health Information

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or more routinely referred to as OCD) is a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts.

Obsessional thoughts (obsessions) are very distressing and result in a person carrying out repetitive behaviours or rituals in order to prevent a perceived harm and/or worry that preceding obsessions have focused their attention on. Such behaviours include avoidance of people, places or objects and constant reassurance seeking, sometimes the rituals will be internal mental counting, checking of body parts, or blinking, all of these are compulsions.

Compulsions do bring some relief to the distress caused by the obsessions, but that relief is temporary and reoccurs each time a person’s obsessive thought/fear is triggered. Sometimes over time the compulsions can become more of a habit where the original obsessive fear and worry has been forgotten, in this instance compulsions are often completed to enable the individual to feel ‘just right’, the key word being ‘feel’.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder presents itself in many guises, and certainly goes far beyond the common perception that OCD is merely a little hand washing, checking light switches or having spotless houses or a characteristic of someone who is a little fastidious. In fact, if a person is suffering with Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder then it will be impacting on some or all aspects of their daily life, sometimes becoming severely distressing leading to some nature of impairment or even disablement for hours at a time, each and every day. It is for this reason and level of impact on a person that makes OCD a disorder.

In 1990 the World Health Organisation ranked Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the global top ten leading causes of disability in terms of loss of income and quality of life.
In fact back then it went on to suggest that OCD was the fifth leading cause of burden for women in developed countries. More recently the World Health Organisation went on to state that anxiety disorders (including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) are the sixth largest cause of disability, and that more women than men are affected.

Based on current estimates for the UK population, there are potentially around three quarters of a million people living with OCD at any one time. But it is worth noting that a disproportionately high number of those, about 50% of all these cases, will fall into the severe category with less than a quarter being classed as mild cases.

OCD will impact on individuals regardless of gender or social or cultural background and is now thought to affect slightly more females than males.

To sufferers and non-sufferers alike, the thoughts and fears related to some aspects of OCD can often seem profoundly shocking, for example unwanted fears of hurting a loved one, or a child. It must be stressed, however, that they are just thoughts – not fantasies or impulses which will be acted upon.

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