OCD is a term that is commonly misused to describe people who are very clean, or particular about things being neat and tidy. But OCD is a real and oftentimes serious condition that can have severe implications on one’s life. Learn more about the symptoms and effects of OCD.
What is OCD? What are some common symptoms of OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. When the sufferer has obsessions, he or she will experience recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are distressing. For example, a sufferer can have constant thoughts of being contaminated by germs or dirt, or thoughts of doubtfulness if a certain task is done properly. In response, he or she will be driven to perform compulsions. Compulsions are repetitive or ritualistic behaviours such as handwashing or checking. These obsessions or compulsions tend to be time-consuming (e.g. showering for more than 1 hour each time) and cause anxiety in the sufferer.
What is not OCD?
Many people have “obsessional” or “perfectionistic” traits but are not suffering from OCD. In fact, obsessiveness may actually be desirable for people who work in certain occupations; such as accountants and doctors, where details and careful checking is required. In order for the behaviour to be diagnosed as OCD, the condition needs to be time-consuming, or cause significant distress or impairment in social and occupational functioning.
Common myths/misconceptions about OCD
We may think that we understand what OCD is, or what it looks like. However, our perceptions may be completely incorrect, misinformed, or influenced by a stereotype we have come across before.
OCD is all about cleanliness.
Though many sufferers exhibit compulsive cleaning, others do not. Instead, many have compulsive checking. This can include compulsively checking if they have lost belongings, if the lights and gas stove are switched off, if their work is correctly done, etc.
If someone has OCD, it is obvious in their behaviour.
Many sufferers do not manifest their illness in their behaviour. In about 30% of OCD sufferers, they have mental obsessions without outward compulsive behaviours. Such obsessions can include mental obsessions of having “molested” someone, intrusive thoughts and images of committing a violent act such as killing someone or jumping off a building etc. Though they do not exhibit any outward sign of these obsessions, they are still highly distressed by these symptoms.
People with OCD just need to relax.
Due to the persistent nature and distressing content of obsessions and compulsions, many sufferers of OCD feel anxious and it is difficult for them to relax. It is also difficult for them to suppress these obsessions or just “will” them away.
How can you help someone who has OCD?
It is advisable to seek professional advice for proper diagnosis and treatment, and not delay treatment. If the condition remains untreated for too long (many years), it may be more difficult to treat, and there may be an impairment to work or study.
Medication, psychological treatment, or both, are found to be effective to treat OCD. Psychiatrists give a class of drugs called SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) that are found to be useful in reducing obsessions and compulsions. Psychologists give a form of therapy called CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which also helps to resolve obsessions and compulsions. In many cases, combining medication and psychological treatment achieves the best outcome.
Dr Thong Jiunn Yew is a Consultant Psychiatrist with keen interest in suicidology. He is trained in obsessive-compulsive disorders and sleep disorders.