This week (October 14-20, 2013) is International OCD Awareness Week. Since promoting OCD awareness is a particular passion of mine, of course I’d like to seize on the opportunity to do a little educating. Just what is OCD? How does it present? Is it treatable?
Let’s start with a little background about how many people have OCD. It is generally thought that 1 in 100 adults has OCD and 1 in 200 children. That’s 4-5 children in the average elementary school, and about 20 in a medium-sized high school. Sadly, though, OCD is often under-recognized. The International OCD Foundation notes that it often takes between 14 and 17 years from the first onset of symptoms until a person gets access to effective treatment. Awareness of what OCD is can help to change that.
Simply put, OCD involves obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive, recurring thoughts that are unwanted by the individual. They are associated with uncomfortable feelings and they interfere with important, valued activities. Compulsions are behaviors or mental actions a person engages in to try to feel better or to make the obsessions go away. Avoidance of things or situations that trigger obsessions can also be a compulsion. Compulsions only provide temporary relief. Common obsessions include fear of being contaminated, fear of causing harm to others, fear of losing control and fear of committing a moral offense. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning, constant checking that nothing was done to harm others or that no mistake was made, mentally reviewing events, repeating movements or activities until they are “just right,” seeking reassurance and confessing.
OCD can be extremely agonizing for those suffering from it – and for those who care about them. It can result in lost productivity, lost opportunities and general misery. There are, however, effective treatments that exist. According to the International OCD Foundation, the key elements of treatment for most people with OCD are “one or more of the following: a properly trained therapist, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and medicine.” The Cognitive Behavior Therapy that has demonstrated the most effectiveness for OCD is called Exposure and Response Prevention. It basically involves confronting the thoughts, situations, etc. that make the person anxious and then making a choice not to engage in compulsions. While this may sound a little unnerving, the end effect is that the person learns to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and learns that they naturally lessen on their own.
There is no need for people to suffer with OCD symptoms in silence. Education and treatment can provide the way to a more fulfilling and more productive life. For more information about OCD, its symptoms and its treatment, visit the website for the International OCD Foundation or for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.