What is OCD?

Many people have a preconceived notion as to what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is. People often refer to someone as “being OCD” if he or she is washing their hands a lot, or is a very tidy person. OCD is a well-known disorder, but often misunderstood. 1 out of 40 adults and 1 out of every 100 children have OCD in the United States. It is one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability for individuals ages 15-44 , worldwide. (Beyond OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder that occurs when a person gets caught in the cycle of obsessive thoughts and ritualistic compulsions in order to control the thoughts. The International OCD Foundation describes the disorder thoroughly and succinctly.

Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again and feel outside of the person’s control. Individuals with OCD do not want to have these thoughts and find them disturbing. In most cases, people with OCD realize that these thoughts don’t make any sense. Obsessions are typically accompanied by intense and uncomfortable feelings such as fear, disgust, doubt, or a feeling that things have to be done in a way that is “just right.” In the context of OCD, obsessions are time consuming and get in the way of important activities the person values. Compulsions are the second part of obsessive-compulsive disorder. These are repetitive behaviors or thoughts that a person uses with the intention of neutralizing, counteracting, or making their obsessions go away. People with OCD realize this is only a temporary solution but without a better way to cope they rely on the compulsion as a temporary escape. Compulsions can also include avoiding situations that trigger obsessions. Compulsions are time consuming and get in the way of important activities the person values.” (International OCD Foundation)

OCD can take many forms. Obsessive thoughts include fear of contamination, fear of losing control, harming oneself or another person, unwanted sexual thoughts, religious obsessions (scrupulosity), perfectionist tendencies, superstitions involving numbers or colors, and much more. Compulsions used to try and control these thoughts include hand washing, excessive cleaning, checking things, repeated actions such as tapping, touching, mental compulsions such as praying or thinking “good thoughts” instead of “bad thoughts”, and avoiding situations that could trigger the unwanted thoughts.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a vicious cycle that is extremely difficult to break out of. OCD or no OCD, everyone experiences intrusive thoughts from time to time. The difference is that people with OCD cannot let go of these intrusive thoughts. These intrusive thoughts cause them so much anxiety that they allow their compulsions to control their everyday lives. OCD causes harm to finances, relationships, loved ones, health, work, and everyday living.