Teens Tips with Alicia Drummond teen-tips-so-every-child-can-thrive 2 The Mews,
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for schools & parents

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with Alicia Drummond

In light of the rise in the number of young people struggling with anxiety, we thought it might be helpful to explore one of the anxiety disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health problem which affects two in every one hundred people.   It is a complex disorder which can be difficult to understand for both the sufferer and their family and friends.  You often hear people joking about being a bit OCD when you see their immaculate laundry cupboard or categorised book collection, but those who suffer from OCD know it is absolutely no joke. So what is it?

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 or touch wood to prevent bad luck.  So you could say that the vast majority of us are on the Obsessive/Compulsive spectrum to some degree. It becomes a disorder when the obsessions, and the compulsions which 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 have a friend or colleague who always has to check he has locked his locker three times before leaving the cloakroom.  It is always locked when he checks the first time, so you ask him why he has to check three times and he explains that if he doesnt someone will break into it.  To you this seems totally illogical, and it is, but not to him, and he wont be able to feel safe until he has completed his ritual.

Some OCD sufferers are aware that their obsessions and behaviours are not logical but even so they experience extreme distress if they have to deviate from their ritual because it is their way of temporarily alleviating painful emotions and intrusive thoughts.

OCD can manifest in some strange thinking and behaviour and can have a serious impact on people’s quality of 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.  If you are living with someone with OCD, try to understand that these obsessions and compulsions are coping strategies which help the person feel safe even if only temporarily.  They need our empathy.  Scorn will feed their feelings of shame and exacerbate their anxiety and compulsions.

Overcoming OCD can be challenging and will take time.  It invariably requires professional help to enable the sufferer to change their thoughts and feelings and early intervention is key.  If you know someone is anxious, they start to engage in habits or rituals and become distressed when they are not able or allowed to carry out these behaviours, go gently.  They need our understanding, our patience and professional help from a qualified therapist.

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