Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a mental health issue that affects the daily lives of thousands of Canadians. Would you know how to recognize it?
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions or compulsions or both. These manifestations are often observed in early adulthood, but it is not uncommon for them to start during childhood or adolescence.
What are obsessions and compulsions?
Obsessions are urges, images or intrusive and unwelcome thoughts. They occur repeatedly and cause significant anxiety and psychological distress. Efforts to control, ignore or contain them remain fruitless in cases of OCD.
Compulsions are repetitive mental acts, rituals or behaviours intended to neutralize or react to obsessions. They are irrepressible: not giving in to them causes great discomfort. Paradoxically, in certain circumstances, this attempt to regain control exacerbates the subjective feeling of loss of control typically experienced with OCD.
What is the typical behaviour of a person affected by OCD?
People affected by OCD sometimes self-impose very strict rules of conduct and follow them rigorously. They can adopt rigid behaviour, a ritual that responds to their fears or beliefs, for the purpose of alleviating or neutralizing their anxiety or avoiding situations where it may occur.
From the outside, the resulting behaviours seem unrealistic, unreasonable and excessive. They are very time-consuming and impact social and professional relationships.
In concrete terms, how does OCD manifest itself?
The nature and intensity of obsessions and compulsions vary greatly from one individual to another. For example, a person obsessed with hygiene could take endless or repeated showers, a person obsessed by safety will check if a door is properly closed or locked a dozen times.
Here are some examples of mental acts, rituals or behaviours that could be the focus of compulsions:
- Brushing teeth
- Repeating words out loud or silently
- Household cleaning or reorganizing
- Placing objects
Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the belief or perceived threat and the compulsion. A person might place objects in the house a certain way in the hopes of ensuring a loved one’s safety.
How to determine if it is indeed OCD
To confirm the presence of OCD, a diagnosis must be made by a healthcare professional (such as a psychiatrist or psychologist). OCD is sometimes coupled with other mental health problems like depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder, which can make it difficult to diagnose.
For people who suffer from OCD, it isn’t always easy to recognize or admit that it is indeed an illness. Although some come to realize that the beliefs that result from their condition have little to do with reality, others are convinced of the contrary. This lack of awareness can make it difficult to recognize and manage the disorder.
How can OCD be treated?
It is possible to control OCD if the necessary help is provided. Once the problem is acknowledged and accepted, a recovery process can be undertaken, sometimes a long one. The earlier the problem is detected, the better the chances of getting well.
A full and meaningful life is possible despite the presence of OCD. The support of loved ones and competent professionals is a valuable asset.
The measures likely to help a person affected by OCD are the following:
- Medication. The medications most often used to treat OCD belong to the class of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs. They help to reduce anxiety. An additional medication is sometimes added to enhance the effects of another.
- Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy is often recommended. It mainly consists of correcting problematic thoughts and behaviours. Some therapists, psychologists among others, are specialized in treating OCD. For optimal results, a treatment combining psychotherapy and medication constitutes a winning strategy.
- Alternative interventions. Medication and psychotherapy are sometimes not enough. Where appropriate, other treatment options must be considered.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist or another healthcare professional for additional information about OCD and its treatment.