Dialog Box


Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Anxiety is a complex and faceted mental health issue which is unique for every individual.

Not only are people’s experiences of anxiety different, but there are a range of different anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and also a variety of conditions where anxiety is present.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one such condition.

People living with OCD are often stereotyped as people who keep things neat and ‘in order’. And while this can be one symptom of OCD, the broader symptoms of OCD and its association with anxiety are not often acknowledged.

Young woman with her head in hands.

What is obsessive compulsive disorder?

OCD is characterised by obsessive intrusive thoughts, and compulsions (or actions) to alleviate these thoughts.

Everyone experiences intrusive or anxious thoughts from time to time, and sometimes they can be helpful – for example, ‘I may have left the stove on’ is an anxious thought.

In this case, thoughts like this can be helpful as it leads us to check the stove and ensure things are safe. But it becomes an issue if that thought becomes obsessive or recurring.

Having the obsessive thought ‘I’ve left the stove on’ can lead to repeated checking to alleviate the distress caused by the thought.

In many cases, obsessive thoughts can be much more abstract, such as ‘if I step on a crack in the concrete, something bad might happen’.

Having obsessive thoughts and compulsions can make it difficult for someone to leave the house, to fall asleep, or to continue with their regular everyday activities including eating and drinking.

The types of intrusive thoughts someone with OCD has are always unique, but there are common types of thoughts and concerns for people living with OCD. 

Some of these include:

  • cleanliness and contamination
  • symmetry and order
  • fear of harm to oneself or others
  • intrusive thoughts about sex, violence or accidents
  • concerns around religion or morality

The Better Health Channel provides some examples of compulsions (also known as rituals) which are related to obsessive thoughts on the topics above, such as:

  • excessive hand washing, showering and tooth brushing
  • applying rigid rules and patterns to the placement of objects, furniture, books, clothes and other items
  • excessive checking of locks, electrical and gas appliances, and other things associated with safety
  • repeating routine activities and actions such as reading, writing, walking, picking up something or opening a door

OCD often begins in childhood or adolescence, but can begin at any time in a person's life. 

What causes OCD?

OCD is thought to be caused from a combination of factors, such as biological and hereditary factors, and environmental factors or learned behaviours. 

Just like other anxiety disorders, OCD can also worsen or ease depending on a person’s situation (for example, OCD may worsen when a person is dealing with a stressful period of their life).

While it may not be fully clear what the cause of OCD is, there is treatment and support available for people living with OCD, and professional mental health workers can help to both identify causes and alleviate symptoms.

Diagnosis and treatment for OCD

Living with any type of anxiety disorder is difficult, particularly when it goes undiagnosed and untreated.

Unfortunately for many people living with OCD, there is often a delay in diagnosis because they may feel shame about their obsessive thoughts and/or their need to carry out compulsions.

While it might feel scary to take that first step and seek support, getting help for OCD can make a significant improvement to quality of life.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of OCD and want to seek help, we suggest visiting your GP to discuss your symptoms – your GP may then suggest that you seek the support of a mental health professional. 

Both psychological treatments and medication are available for OCD, but psychological treatments are usually recommended as a first line of treatment.

Speaking with a mental health professional, and accessing treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy, are very helpful for learning management techniques and developing a better understanding of what OCD is, to aid in recovery.

How to help someone living with OCD

It's important to understand that OCD is a recognised and treatable mental health condition.

It is also important to understand that while the obsessive thoughts and compulsions of your loved one may seem irrational, it can be incredibly difficult and often impossible for the sufferer to control them without professional support. 

‘It can be difficult, demanding and exhausting to live with a person who has OCD. Family members and friends may become deeply involved in the person’s rituals and may have to assume responsibility and care for many daily activities that the person with OCD is unable to undertake. This can cause distress and disruption to all members of the family.’
– Better Health Channel

You can help someone living with OCD by learning more about the disorder, offering support, showing empathy and understanding, and recommending that they seek professional help.

If you are a friend or family member of someone living with OCD, visit the Better Health Channel to learn more and discover the do’s and don’ts of providing effective support.

Liz Gellel | Marketing Coordinator – Digital Lead


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19 October 2021
Category: Blog