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However, OCD is a serious anxiety disorder characterised by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and ritual behaviours that sufferers feel the need to repeat over and over (compulsions).2, 3
Unlike someone who is particular about personal hygiene or safety and security, a person with OCD may repeatedly wash their hands on a daily basis until they are raw. Likewise, they might spend so much time checking and rechecking if their front door is locked that they may be late for work regularly.
OCD IS ABOUT ANXIETY NOT LOGICBack to top
People who have OCD likely know that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are irrational – do not make sense.2 Even when trying to resist them, these obsessions (thoughts) and compulsions (urges) keep coming up and their brain gets ‘stuck’.1, 2 He or she cannot just snap out of it or get over it.1,2,4 Feeling powerless to resist or control them, they may carefully disguise or hide their obsessions and compulsions from others so as not to appear odd or crazy.5, 6
- Washers. Afraid of contamination (from objects or people they touch), for example from dirt, germs, diseases, they usually have cleaning or hand washing compulsions
- Checkers. They repeatedly check things (stove, taps, and light switches turned off, doors locked) they connect with harm or danger
- Doubters and sinners. They believe that if everything is not done perfectly or just right, something terrible will happen or they will be punished in some way
- Hoarders. Fearing something bad will happen if they throw anything away, compulsively collecting, keeping and storing things they do not need or use2, 7, 8
WHAT CAUSES OCD AND WHO IS AT RISK?Back to top
While no one knows for certain what causes OCD, researchers believe it may result from a combination of genetic, cognitive, and environmental factors.7,9,10
- Genetic. There is a tendency for OCD to run in families
- Cognitive. Cognitive function refers to the brain-based skills we use to perform simple and complex tasks – neuroimages (pictures of the brain) suggest that chemical, structural and functional differences in the brain may play a role
- Environmental. Behavioural conditioning (learned responses) help temporarily reduce or prevent the anxiety connected with the obsessive thought or compulsive behaviour9, 10
OCD occurs in males and females. While it can develop at any age, it tends to first appear between the age of 8 and 12 or between late teens and early adulthood.1
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?Back to top
Signs and symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, can come and go throughout a person’s life, and may ease over time or get worse.3,4 While most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, it is possible for someone to have one or the other.2
OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS MAY INCLUDE:Back to top
- Extreme fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt, or contaminating others
- Fear of losing control together with aggressive or horrific thoughts about harming yourself or others
- Disturbing, intrusive sexual or violent thoughts and images
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
- Fear of losing or not having things you might need
- Excessive beliefs about perfection, order and symmetry – the idea that everything must line up perfectly
- Superstitious beliefs such as walking on cracks on a pathway will cause harm to yourself or others2,4,11
COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOURS MAY INCLUDE:Back to top
- Following a strict daily routine
- Not touching objects touched by others
- Excessive checking and rechecking things, such as the stove, taps, light switches, locks
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they are safe
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
- Spending a lot of time washing hands or cleaning
- Needing to arrange things symmetrically and precisely
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
- Accumulating everything you have ever owned, including items that should be thrown away such as old newspapers or empty food containers2, 4, 11
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENTBack to top
Remember, your obsessions and compulsions are symptoms of your OCD and not a personal flaw. While there is no cure, with the correct medical treatment and self-care, you can get it under control.
- International OCD Foundation. 5 Things OCD is not. Available at: https://iocdf.org/blog/2013/03/01/5-things-ocd-is-not/. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Help Guide. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/obssessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.htm/. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Available at:
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Mayo Clinic. Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Better Health Channel. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Available at:
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/obsessive-compulsive-disorder. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Health Central. 8 Things You Might Not Know About OCD. Available at: https://www.healthcentral.com/article/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-ocd. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ The South African Depression and Anxiety Group. OCD Treatment & Referral Guide. Available at: ⦁ http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content⦁ &⦁ view=article⦁ &⦁ id=1831⦁ &⦁ Itemid=169. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Medical News Today. What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/178508.php. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Brain Blogger. Multifaceted Causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Available at: http://www.brainblogger.com/2013/07/13/multifaceted-causes-of-obsessive-compulsive-disorder/. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Beyond OCD. What causes OCD? Available at: Available at: http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts/what-causes-ocd. Accessed 13 May 2019.
⦁ Psych Guides. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects. Available at: https://www.psychguides.com/ocd/symptoms-causes-and-effects/. Accessed 13 May 2019.
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WHAT IS GAD? A sufferer typically: Experiences relentless and exaggerated anxiety in the absence of valid concerns, which can be debilitating Is prone to always expect the worst Blows things out of proportion Grapples with all-consuming fear and dread to the point of it interfering with their ability to live a normal life