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Obsessive compulsive disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health problem where someone has obsessive thoughts that cause anxiety, and has excessive and unrealistic routines in place which they feel they must complete in order to help reduce that anxiety. It affects around 1.2 per cent of people in the UK and is equally common in men and women, although it often occurs during adolescence for boys and early adulthood for girls.

Everyone at some point is bothered by an unwanted or intrusive unpleasant thought, but for some people these thoughts are excessive and can cause distress and anxiety. These thoughts then become obsessions. Many people who have obsessions will try to control or suppress these thoughts, which can be almost impossible.

What the obsessive thought is about will vary from person to person: One person might be obsessed with the thought that they could get very sick another by the thought that something bad may happen to a loved a one.

To reduce the anxiety and distress that comes with obsessions, some people use certain rituals or habits. For example, if you are obsessively worried about getting ill, you might clean your hands excessively to avoid germs.

Sometimes these compulsions show a clear link with the obsession (like the example of washing) but sometimes they seem unrelated. For example, many people count to a certain number or do things in a certain order to try to control their obsessions. These rituals are called compulsions because a person with OCD will feel the need to do the act compulsively and, if they cannot do it, they will become very anxious and upset.

Sticking to very strict rules laid out by compulsions can be very time-consuming and very stressful. Although the ritual will often make someone feel less anxious, this feeling is only temporary and the worry and distress over their obsessions will quickly return.

There are a number of different ways to manage OCD. Your GP may offer you medication such as anti-depressants to help with your anxiety. Although you may not be depressed, anti-depressants are still useful in treating OCD because the same brain chemicals are involved in depression and OCD.

As well as medication, you may be offered cognitive behavioural therapy. This therapy is aimed at showing you that the rituals aren't necessary to reduce anxiety and that the anxiety will often go away on its own. Behavioural therapy will attempt to break the association you've made between the rituals and reduced anxiety so that you won't feel compelled to do them anymore. 

If you think you have OCD you should speak to your GP about what treatment would be best for you.

You can get access to local NHS psychological services through your GP (family doctor) or practice nurse. Your local NHS psychological therapies service provides therapy and mental health services for people with mild to moderate mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, as well as feelings related to change, bereavement, and personal and family problems.

Details for your local services are:-

OCD-UK is a national charity, independently working with and for almost one million children and adults whose lives are affected by OCD.

No Panic is a registered charity which helps people who suffer from Panic Attacks, Phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and other related anxiety disorders including those people who are trying to give up tranquillisers.

Please see the Other information and Advice page for organisations and services that support people with experience of mental health issues. 

Last updated: 09/07/2021