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Teen Tips on Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of a number of anxiety disorders and a mental health problem that affects two in every one hundred people.

Most of us have unwanted or unpleasant thoughts (obsessions) from time to time and many of us have habits or rituals (compulsions) that we carry out even though we know that they are not particularly logical.  For example we might wear a piece of clothing because we think it will bring us luck in an exam, so you could say that all of us are on the Obsessive/Compulsive spectrum to some degree. It becomes a disorder when the obsessions (intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (behaviours that we think will keep us safe from the obsessions) disrupt our lives; cause distress and occupy our time for more than an hour each day.

To help you understand what OCD might look like in every day life, imagine you know a child who always has to check he has locked his locker three times before leaving the cloakroom.  You ask him why he has to check three times and he explains that if he doesn’t someone will break into it.  To you this seems totally illogical, and it is, but not to him, and he won’t be able to feel safe until he has checked it three times.

As you can see OCD can manifest in some pretty odd thinking and behaviour and when we get to the point of having to check things many times, it also gets in the way of every day life.

Here is a list of the most common obsessions:-

  • Worrying about dirt or germs
  • Worrying about bad things happening
  • Thinking about doing something wrong
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts
  • Worrying about hurting other people or about you being hurt
  • Feeling as if you must say, do or remember something
  • Wanting things done in a particular order
  • Having magical thoughts or superstitions
  • Worrying about offending God

Here is a list of the most common compulsions:-

  • Checking and rechecking things
  • Ordering or arranging things until they are ‘just right’
  • Counting, repeating and re-doing things
  • Touching, tapping or rubbing things
  • Washing and cleaning excessively and repeatedly
  • Asking questions and asking for reassurance
  • Hoarding things
  • Re-reading or re-writing things

Most people with OCD feel embarrassed and ashamed about their symptoms and may worry that they are going mad.   It can be a deeply distressing and debilitating condition for the sufferer and their friends and family who can find the condition frustrating, illogical and strange.  We have to understand that these obsessions and compulsions have come about to make them feel safe.  Ideally we will help them get professional help to change their thoughts and feelings but in the meantime be gentle with them – they need our understanding and patience.

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