Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where a person has recurrent and unwanted ideas or impulses (called obsessions) and an urge or compulsion to do something to relieve the discomfort caused by the obsession. The obsessive thoughts range from the idea of losing control, to themes surrounding religion or keeping things or parts of one’s body clean all the time. Compulsions are behaviors which help reduce the anxiety surrounding the obsessions. The thoughts and behaviors a person with OCD has are senseless, repetitive, distressing, and sometimes harmful, but they are also difficult to overcome.

OCD is more common than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet, it is still commonly overlooked by mental health professionals, mental health advocacy groups, and people who themselves have the disorder.

Obsessions

Obsessions are unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of a person with OCD. Common ideas include persistent fears that harm may come to self or a loved one, an unreasonable concern with becoming contaminated, or an excessive need to do things disturbing thought, such as, “My hands may be contaminated – I must wash them” or “I may have left the gas on” or “I am going to injure my child.” These thoughts tend to be intrusive, unpleasant, and produce a high degree of anxiety. Sometimes the obsessions are of a violent or a sexual nature, or concern illness.

Compulsions

In response to their obsessions, most people with OCD resort to repetitive behaviors called compulsions. The most common of these are washing and checking (e.g., making sure the gas is off for the oven). Other compulsive behaviors include counting (often while performing another compulsive action such as hand washing), repeating, hoarding, and endlessly rearranging objects in an effort to keep them in precise alignment with each other. Cognitive problems, such as mentally repeating phrases, listmaking, or checking, are also common. These behaviors generally are intended to ward off harm to the person with OCD or others. Some people with OCD have regimented rituals while others have rituals that are complex and changing. Performing rituals may give the person with OCD some relief from anxiety, but such relief is only temporary.

If these symptoms seem relevant to you, we can help. Feel free to contact us by calling our main desk at (617) 353-9610, or by emailing Bonnie Brown, our nurse administrator, at bonnieb@bu.edu. Also, if you qualify for one of our ongoing research studies, you may be eligible to receive free treatment as a part of our current research opportunities.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 95-3879 (1995).

Some information courtesy of Mental Health Net (1999)