Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

When you hear the words “obsessive compulsive disorder,” what comes to mind? Like other mental health disorders, there are stereotypes about OCD that lead to misunderstanding and perpetuate stigma. For example, many people falsely believe that if someone is diagnosed with OCD, it simply means they are exceptionally tidy and organized. In reality, people with OCD have symptoms that can seriously impact their quality of life. By educating yourself on the various components of OCD, you can gain a sense of awareness and become more empathetic to what those with this disorder may be going through. So, let’s learn more together and help break the stigma.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

The two main symptoms of OCD are obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are disturbing and repetitive thoughts that individuals with OCD feel like they can’t control. These thoughts cause extreme emotional discomfort, and can include intense urges or fears. Most people with OCD recognize that their obsessions are not necessarily logical, but they are still unable to stop them. Obsessions lead to compulsions: behaviours that are done to counteract or stop these intrusive thoughts. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but they are not a long-term solution.

People with OCD experience a pattern of these obsessions and compulsions. It starts with an intrusive thought that makes them feel anxious or distressed. Then they engage in compulsive behaviour to counteract this feeling, and the cycle repeats. Although OCD is categorized by these broad symptoms, not everyone’s experience with OCD is the same. There are different types of OCD, such as double-checking and doubt, where someone may doubt their own memory and perception. This can cause them to repeat behaviours. For instance, someone may lock their door, and a few minutes later doubt whether it was locked correctly. As a result, they check and recheck the door multiple times. Relationship OCD can cause people to obsess over whether they are with the right person, or constantly analyze and question their partner’s qualities. These are just some examples of how OCD can manifest.

We all second-guess ourselves sometimes, and it’s not uncommon for people to have doubts about their relationship. However, OCD is more than just occasional obsession or worry. For someone to be diagnosed with OCD, obsessions and compulsions must be affecting them to the point where it interferes with their daily life. Not only does it cause emotional distress, but they spend at least an hour per day in this cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

Treatment for OCD

Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for people with OCD. More specifically, exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP) works well to reduce the frequency of obsessions and compulsions. In EX/RP, the client works with a mental health professional to learn how to be in a situation that usually triggers their compulsions, without actually engaging in the compulsion. Medications like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) also help reduce symptoms.

Breaking the Stigma

Stigma and fear of judgement can prevent people with OCD from seeking treatment or talking about what they’re going through. To break the stigma, we must first look inward and pay attention to our own feelings about those with OCD and other mental disorders. There are some questions you can ask yourself to self-reflect and recognize whether you hold certain stereotypes. For instance, do you feel like you wouldn’t be able to date or be friends with someone who had OCD? If you were recruiting for a job, would you be less likely to hire them solely because they have a mental disorder? It’s helpful to address thoughts like this and acknowledge how they contribute to stigma. And when you hear someone make a harmful or untrue comment about OCD – or any mental illness – it’s important to speak up! By correcting our misconceptions and encouraging others to do the same, together we can create a stigma-free world.