Have you ever found yourself constantly checking to see if your doors are locked? Or maybe you’re always worried about leaving on the stove burners, so you’re repeatedly checking throughout the night just to make sure they’re off? You might have obsessive compulsive tendencies. We all do. But have yours reached a point where they are so severe that they could be symptoms of a disorder?

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

The name speaks for itself: Obsessions are repeated urges and thoughts, and compulsions are the behaviours applied to satisfy those obsessions. So, for instance, if you are obsessed with safety (obsession), you keep checking to make sure your doors are locked (compulsion).

We tend to use the term OCD very loosely, often referring to someone who demonstrates obsessive compulsive tendencies but the truth is when diagnosed as a disorder, it is so grave that the affected person suffers tremendously.

Persons diagnosed with OCD have an uncontrollable urge to repeat certain behaviours. It reaches a point where they are unable to help themselves and they are tormented by not being able to control their obsessive compulsions and being unable to act on a particular obsession can lead the affected person to become extremely anxious and distressed.

Having this disorder can also lead to the person developing another mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression. It should also be noted that OCD and Anxiety are inextricably linked. This means that a person diagnosed with anxiety could develop OCD and vice versa. Both disorders, in extreme cases, have one thing in common: extreme worry about something which may have no rational basis.

What causes OCD and who’s affected by it?

OCD is a common mental health disorder that affects millions of people around the world and is not usually diagnosed until the person reaches about 19-years-old. Like with most disorders, the causes are generally a combination of biology (genetics/brain structure), and the environment.

If it runs in your family, then you have increased chances of acquiring the disorder. Furthermore, research is still underway in trying to determine whether certain abnormalities in the brain may have a connection to OCD symptoms.

As it relates to the environment, experiencing a traumatic event, like having your home broken into or being diagnosed with an infectious disease may cause that person to have obsessive compulsions about ensuring their house is secure by checking to see that the doors are locked throughout the night or needing to wash their hands 100 times a day.

Treatment and care

Treatment is available in the form of medication and/or psychotherapy, depending on the severity of the disorder. There is advanced medication that helps treat a lot of symptoms and because the disorder sometimes co-occurs with another mental health disorder, like depression and anxiety, those symptoms are also be treated.

Psychotherapy for OCD will likely come in the form of Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy, whereby the person is gradually exposed to their obsessions and urged not to act on their compulsions. This requires in depth training and should not be done by anyone other than a therapist trained in Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy as it could cause severe anxiety and distress to the affected person.

Know of someone who might be OCD? Take them to your nearest health facility for further information and guidance.

Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department and also sees patients privately. You can send questions, comments or schedule a private consultation at aliciaroopnaraine@gmail.com

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