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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition that is usually associated with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour.

OCD is one of the most common mental health conditions. It is estimated that up to 3 in 100 adults and up to 5 in 100 children and teenagers have OCD. It usually starts in early adult life, with men tending to report earlier symptoms than women. However, OCD symptoms can begin at any time, including childhood.

The symptoms of OCD can range from mild to severe. For example, some people with OCD will spend about an hour a day engaged in obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviour. For others, the condition can completely take over their life.

Left untreated, the symptoms of OCD may not improve and, in some cases, they will get worse. Without treatment, nearly half of people with OCD still have symptoms 30 years later.

With treatment, however, the outlook for OCD is good. Some people will achieve a complete cure. Even if a complete cure is not achievable, treatment can reduce the severity of the symptoms and help to achieve a good quality of life.

A form of psychotherapy, known as cognitive behavioural therapy, which includes graded exposure and response prevention, is a proven treatment with a high rate of success in OCD. This may also be combined with medication, such as antidepressants.

About 80% of people with OCD will respond to initial treatment.

However, the presence of a small degree of obsession can even have a positive impact on an individual’s performance, since it can drive them to produce good quality work. Often high achievers and academics display certain traits.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, ideas or urges that repeatedly appear in the mind; These obsessions are often frightening and interrupt regular thoughts. 

Compulsions are repetitive activities like repeatedly checking a door to make sure it is locked or washing hands. The aim of the compulsion is to ‘put right’ the distress caused by the obsessive thoughts and relieve the feeling of anxiety. Sufferers are unlikely to feel any pleasure from carrying out the compulsion but find themselves doing it again and again.

Most people with OCD experience both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience only obsessive thoughts and some people have compulsions without knowing why.

OCD is described as an anxiety disorder. Other anxiety disorders include phobias and panic attacks which can share symptoms with OCD such as recurrent intrusive thoughts, cold fear and nightmares. OCD is also known to have a close association with depression, and many people find obsessions appear or get worse when they are depressed.

The three most common themes are unwanted thoughts about harm or aggression, unwanted sexual thoughts and unwanted blasphemous thoughts.

The symptoms of OCD can clearly be very distressing, and have a serious impact on the lives of sufferers. Unfortunately there is no instant cure, but there are a number of different treatments and coping strategies that might help to overcome the symptoms.

A form of psychotherapy, known as cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT), which includes graded exposure and response prevention, is a proven treatment with a high rate of success. 

CBT aims to identify connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviour and to help develop practical skills to manage them. It can be done one-to-one, or in a group. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this therapy is especially effective in dealing with OCD. This may also be combined with medication, such as antidepressants.

It is important to take comfort in the knowledge that you can learn to live effectively with this condition.

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