What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a kind of anxiety disorder that causes patients to obsess over relatively mundane aspects of life. The outsized fear may cause people to obsess over germs, repeat small tasks, and develop tics. These behaviors keep people with OCD from living their lives.

Myths About OCD

In popular culture, people use “OCD” to describe people who keep their homes well-organized or clean. It’s vital for people to understand the distinction between tidiness and OCD. A person can genuinely enjoy cleaning, use hand sanitizer several times per day, and liberally use the label maker without suffering from a disorder.

When people use “OCD” to describe particularly tidy people, they diminish the real suffering and pain that people with true OCD experience. More importantly, this misunderstanding may keep people with OCD from seeking the treatment they need.

OCD Diagnosis Criteria

Mental health professionals refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for diagnostic criteria regarding OCD and all other mental illnesses. Like with many other emotional disorders, the difference between someone who likes to clean and a patient with OCD lies in the effects on the person’s daily life.

At a minimum, someone’s obsessions must take up at least one hour each day before it rises to the level of diagnosis. Furthermore, the patient must have distress over their compulsions. People with OCD do not get enjoyment from repeating tasks. Instead, they feel like they must to keep something tragic from happening.

Examples of Obsessive Thoughts and Compulsion

Obsessive thoughts serve as one of the distinguishing characteristics of OCD. These thoughts tend to relate to things that other people would not think about twice. For example, someone may experience obsessive thoughts regarding the microscopic organisms that surround all of us every day.

Compulsions are the other pillar of OCD. These actions tend to stem from the person’s obsessive thoughts. For example, someone who cannot stop thinking about germs may feel compelled to wipe the entire kitchen with bleach three times over. Compulsions can also revolve around smaller tasks, such as checking the door lock precisely five times before going to bed.

Compulsions get their name because they are not just things that patients think about doing. Instead, they feel as though they must follow through on their urges. They believe that failing to do so could result in disaster and panic ensues.

OCD Symptoms

  • Obsessions and compulsions as described above
  • Ritualistic behaviors
  • Avoiding specific situations
  • Nightmares
  • Hoarding
  • Guilt regarding compulsions
  • Panic attacks

OCD Treatment

OCD is a complex disorder, so what works for one patient may not help another. As such, the mental health profession has developed several techniques to treat OCD, including:

Patients with OCD may need one or more types of treatment to experience relief. For example, a person can see a psychiatrist for CBT and take antidepressants.

ERP is a type of CBT specifically for patients with OCD and phobias. In this type of therapy, patients purposefully face their triggers, like not completing a ritual. The counselors then help the patient see that nothing terrible happened. Over time, the reaction to the trigger changes.

OCD often does not go into remission through therapy alone. Many patients need medications either while they work through ERP or for longer. Psychiatrists commonly prescribe these medications for OCD:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)