Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears that lead you to do repetitive behaviours. These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.

If you have OCD, you’ll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.

Causes of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

It’s not clear what causes OCD. A number of different factors may play a part, including:

Family history – you’re more likely to develop OCD if a family member has it, possibly because of your genes

Differences in the brain – some people with OCD have areas of unusually high activity in their brain or low levels of a chemical called serotonin

Life events – OCD may be more common in people who have been bullied, abused or neglected, and it sometimes starts after an important life event, such as childbirth or a bereavement

Personality – neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop OCD, also people who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others

Types and examples of obsessions

  • Worrying you’ve already harmed someone by not being careful enough.
  • Worrying you’re going to harm someone because you will lose control.
  • Violent intrusive thoughts or images of yourself doing something violent or abusive.
  • Relationship intrusive thoughts often appear as doubts about whether a relationship is right or whether you or your partner’s feelings are strong enough.
  • Sexual intrusive thoughts or images. These could be related to children, family members or to sexually aggressive behaviour.
  • Contamination (for example by dirt, germs or faeces). You might worry that you have been contaminated and that you – or other people – are spreading the contamination.
  • You might have a fear that something bad will happen if everything isn’t ‘right’.

A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.

Types and examples of compulsions:

  • Washing your hands, body or things around you a lot
  • Touching things in a particular order or at a certain time
  • Arranging objects in a particular way
  • Checking doors and windows to make sure they are locked
  • Checking your body or clothes for contamination
  • Checking your body to see how it responds to intrusive thoughts
  • Checking your memory to make sure an intrusive thought didn’t actually happen
  • Checking your route to work to make sure you didn’t cause an accident
  • Repeating a word, name or phrase in your head or out loud
  • Counting to a certain number
  • Replacing an intrusive thought with a different image

Useful contacts

OCD UK – National OCD charity, run by and for people with lived experience of OCD 
Website – www.ocduk.org 

OCD Action – National charity which offers support and information to anyone affected by OCD 
Website – www.ocdaction.org.uk

Anxiety UK – National registered charity for those affected by anxiety, stress and anxiety based depression 
Website – www.anxietyuk.org.uk

Samaritans – Provides confidential, non-judgemental emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those that could lead to suicide
Call – 116 123 (24 hours a day, free to call) 
Email – jo@samaritans.org
Website – www.samaritans.org

Young Minds – The UK’s leading charity for children and young people’s mental health 
Website – www.youngminds.org.uk

Mind Infoline – Provides confidential mental health information services 
Call – 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm Monday to Friday)
Text – 86463
Email – info@mind.org.uk
Website – www.mind.org/information-support/helplines 

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