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Understanding Mental Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety-related condition that affects roughly 12 in every 1000 people. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 741,504 people living with OCD. This disorder is characterised by continual intrusive thoughts that are difficult to control. These thoughts can lead to the onset of obsessive impulses or compulsions, which involve repetitive activities that one does in order to reduce anxiety caused by the intrusive thoughts. OCD can be a seriously debilitating condition and severely impede one’s quality of life.

Symptoms of OCD

Do you experience repetitive intrusive thoughts that you find difficult to control or ignore that leave you feeling anxious and distressed? Do you feel compelled to perform certain mental or physical acts to relieve yourself from the anxiety and distress caused by these thoughts? If you have been experiencing some of these symptoms, you may be suffering from OCD and should seek professional help. OCD is a serious condition that is associated with two main forms of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that frequently intrude the mind and are difficult to control. These thoughts can be a source of extreme anxiety, guilt, or distress. Compulsions are behaviours that someone feels they must perform in order to relieve themselves of the negative emotions caused by these obsessive thoughts. While it is normal to have the occasional intrusive or ‘bad’ thought, OCD is characterised by persistent, repetitive obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive acts that can have a debilitating impact on your daily life. There are several common obsessions reported by those living with OCD such as an overwhelming fear of being contaminated by germs, contaminating others or contracting a disease. Other common obsessive thoughts are the fear that you may harm others or yourself due to a lack of self-control or by causing a serious accident (for example, a constant worry that you left the oven on and set your house on fire). There are also several common behavioural symptoms of OCD, such as unnecessary ordering and tidying of items, counting, frequent hand washing, repetitive checking (for example, that the oven is turned off), or avoiding contexts that could set off obsessive thoughts. If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms for a substantial amount of time, you may be suffering from OCD and should seek help from a professional. It is important to note that around 50% of all cases of OCD are classified as severe. Therefore, it is especially important to seek help if you feel that you are suffering from this condition.

What causes OCD?

Several factors could contribute to the onset of OCD. Individuals with a family history of OCD may be more vulnerable to developing the condition, due to a possible genetic component that alters the function of the brain. Over-activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for emotion regulation may also be a root cause of OCD. Additionally, OCD may be a result of an imbalance of brain chemicals that deal with emotional responses.

Treating OCD

There are a variety of treatments available for treating OCD. The two most common treatments are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication. In the treatment of OCD, CBT often involves a technique called graded exposure and response prevention (ERP). This technique aims to reduce intrusive obsessions by facing them head-on, without attempting to control them or diminish them through acting out compulsions. In cases where therapy has not been effective in reducing symptoms of OCD, medication may be an effective alternative option. These typically work by restoring the imbalance of chemicals within the brain, which may be responsible for the unpleasant emotional responses and symptoms brought on by the disorder. With more severe cases of OCD, where the condition is seriously impeding everyday life, combination therapy can be particularly effective. This involves undergoing an intensive course of CBT, whilst also taking medication.

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