What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an illness that causes people to have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and to repeat certain behaviors (compulsions) over and over again. We all have habits and routines in our daily lives, such as brushing our teeth before bed. However, for people with OCD, patterns of behavior get in the way of their daily lives.
Most people with OCD know that their obsessions and compulsions make no sense, but they can't ignore or stop them.
What are obsessions?
Obsessions are ideas, images and impulses that run through the person's mind over and over again. A person with OCD doesn't want to have these thoughts and finds them disturbing, but he or she can't control them. Sometimes these thoughts just come once in a while and are only mildly annoying. Other times, a person who has OCD will have obsessive thoughts all the time.
What are compulsions?
Obsessive thoughts make people who have OCD feel nervous and afraid. They try to get rid of these feelings by performing certain behaviors according to "rules" that they make up for themselves. These behaviors are called compulsions. (Compulsive behaviors are sometimes also called rituals.) Performing these behaviors usually only makes the nervous feelings go away for a short time. When the fear and nervousness return, the person who has OCD repeats the routine all over again.
What are some common obsessions?
The following are some common obsessions:
Fear of dirt or germs
Disgust with bodily waste or fluids
Concern with order, symmetry (balance) and exactness
Worry that a task has been done poorly, even when the person knows this is not true
Fear of thinking evil or sinful thoughts
Thinking about certain sounds, images, words or numbers all the time
Need for constant reassurance
Fear of harming a family member or friend
What are some common compulsions?
The following are some common compulsions:
Cleaning and grooming, such as washing hands, showering or brushing teeth over and over again
Checking drawers, door locks and appliances to be sure they are shut, locked or turned off
Repeating, such as going in and out of a door, sitting down and getting up from a chair, or touching certain objects several times
Ordering and arranging items in certain ways
Counting over and over to a certain number
Saving newspapers, mail or containers when they are no longer needed
Seeking constant reassurance and approval
How common is OCD?
For many years, OCD was thought to be rare. Some recent studies show that as many as 3 million Americans ages 18 to 54 may have OCD at any one time. This is about 2.3% of the people in this age group. OCD affects men and women equally.
What causes OCD?
No one has found a single, proven cause for OCD. Some research shows that it may have to do with chemicals in the brain that carry messages from one nerve cell to another. One of these chemicals, called serotonin (say "seer-oh-tone-in"), helps to keep people from repeating the same behaviors over and over again. A person who has OCD may not have enough serotonin. Many people who have OCD can function better when they take medicines that increase the amount of serotonin in their brain.
Are other illnesses associated with OCD?
People who have OCD often have other kinds of anxiety, like phobias (such as fear of spiders or fear of flying) or panic attacks.
People who have OCD also may have depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an eating disorder or a learning disorder such as dyslexia.
I thought I'd do my part to further mental illness awareness today. I appreciate those of you who keep me in your Upward thoughts. Some of you love me even when I'm unmedicated and "crazy." You let me know that you care and are thinking of me. You tell me to "hang in there" and understand when I just can't. You empathize with me, understanding that I did not choose to be "wired" this way. You don't judge me based on what I can do for you. In fact, you don't judge me at all! For this, I thank you. When I am feeling sad and lonely, I know that you are thinking of me and wishing me well.