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Obsessive compulsive disorder

Maisie Willmoth-Allsop

OCD means obsessive compulsive disorder. First of all, OCD is not being tidy, or having good hygiene. People with OCD obsess over a certain thing, and have an irresistible urge to carry out a compulsive action or ritual.

Types of obsessions

Obsessions within OCD usually fall into the following categories:

Fear of causing or failing to prevent harm

  • This includes feeling like you’ve already harmed someone due to carelessness or worrying that not carrying out compulsions is going to lead to you harming someone

Intrusive thoughts, images and impulses

  • Violent thoughts or images (of yourself) that might make you worry that you are a dangerous person
  • Religious or blasphemous thoughts that are against your beliefs
  • Relationship thoughts often make you doubt relationships, this may lead you to end your relationship
  • Sexual thoughts or images, these might be related to children, family members or sexually aggressive behaviour. Such intrusive thoughts might lead you to think the worst of yourself, which can cause additional distress

Fear of contamination

  • You may worry that you or others have been contaminated with dirt, germs or faeces
  • Sufferers experience uncomfortable feelings of ‘internal uncleanliness’ called mental contamination

Fears and worries related to order or symmetry

  • You might fear that something bad will happen if everything isn’t ‘right’
Tidy room due to obsessive compulsive disorder
Organised room, someone with OCD may obsess with everything being in the ‘correct’ place

Types of behaviours

There are many different behaviours that are associated with OCD. Common types of behaviours include:

  • Cleaning and washing hands
  • Counting
  • Ordering and arranging
  • Hoarding
  • Asking for reassurance
  • Repeating words in their head

If the person with OCD isn’t able to follow their specific behaviour they may become frustrated and unable to focus until they carry out their ritual.

NHS, symptoms of OCD (2016)

Remember that not all compulsive behaviours will be obvious. Just because you cannot see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Compulsions can be; physical actions, mental rituals or involve a number. 
Types of compulsions: 
Rituals; Washing things around you a lot, or touching things in a particular order, or arranging objects in a particular way 
Checking; Checking doors, body, memory (to make sure an intrusive thought didn’t happen) 
Correcting thoughts; Counting to a certain number, replacing an intrusive thought with an image 
Reassurance; Repeatedly asking someone if everything you’re doing is okay

What is it like to live with OCD?

Many people experience minor obsessions, like worrying that you didn’t lock your door, and these aren’t OCD. OCD is when these obsessions begin to disrupt your day to day life and lead to a compulsive behaviour.

Repeating compulsions can be time consuming. You may avoid specific areas so as not to trigger behaviours. Obsessive thoughts can make it hard to concentrate and can sometimes leave you feeling exhausted.

OCD can impact on your relationships. You may feel the need to hide your OCD because you may feel ashamed of your obsessive thoughts and compulsions, this can lead to a feeling of isolation. OCD can prevent you from leaving the house or going to social events. People without OCD will struggle to understand what it’s like to live with OCD.

What causes OCD?

No theory has been able to explain every person’s experience. Researchers believe the following are involved in causing OCD:

  • Biological factors
  • Personal experience
  • Genetics

OCD is often seen as a non-serious mental health difficulty by the general public. People frequently make jokes and throwaway comments about OCD. OCD actually carries just as much weight in everyday life as other mental health difficulties. Programmes such as, ‘obsessive compulsive cleaners’ have helped to bring the challenges of OCD into the media, raising awareness. It is essential that we start treating OCD more seriously as one in fifty people have OCD, according to a study in 2015.

Finally, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you, or anyone you know is struggling with OCD. We might be able to help.

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About the author

Maisie Willmoth-Allsop

I chose to study Psychology with Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Taking Criminology alongside psychology was due to an interest in criminals, and how their minds function. I chose to take Psychology as I really wanted to be able to help people. I am most passionate about mental health, making more people aware of it, helping those with it and looking into how severe mental health difficulties, such as psychosis, has an effect on their decisions.

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