Approximately 2% of the population worldwide is affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly called OCD. The disorder is most commonly found in young adults from 18 to 29 years old, and it takes on average 9 years for a person to be diagnosed and get proper treatment. Especially in Vietnam where the mental health awareness movement is still in its early stages, people with OCD might feel misunderstood and unable to get the support they need. By understanding what OCD is and what it’s like to live with this disorder, we’ll be better prepared to aid those affected by it within our community.
OCD is a disorder where people have unwanted, recurring thoughts (obsession) that drive them to do something repeatedly (compulsion). To be diagnosed with OCD, the obsession and/or compulsion have to be time-consuming (takes more than 1 hour per day), cause significant distress, and impair work or social functioning.
Some examples of obsessions include: fear of contamination from the environment or other people; extreme concern with precision, order, or symmetry; fear of blurting out insults or obscenities; and recurring thoughts of words, images, or sounds. Some examples of compulsions include: excessive or ritualized hand-washing, showering, teeth brushing; repeated cleaning of objects; repeatedly checking locks and switches; uncontrollable fidgeting; and repeated counting to a certain number. These thoughts and actions create so much distress that it’s difficult for the person affected to shut them out or not act on them.
There are different theories about the what causes OCD, and they can be categorized as:
Personal experience: going through trauma or periods of chronic stress in the past can lead to developing OCD as a coping mechanism, the same thing can happen when one learns OCD tendencies from one’s parents when watching them deal with stress. Pregnancy or giving birth can also increase risk of developing OCD.
Biology: A lack of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with happiness and feeling good, is shown to be related to OCD. It’s still unclear whether or not this is a direct cause or an effect of OCD.
Personality: certain traits such as meticulousness and perfectionist tendencies can increase a person’s chance of developing OCD.
What is it like to live with OCD?
People with OCD usually experience the following effects with varying degrees:
Disruption in daily life: the obsessions and compulsions can take up time, make it hard to concentrate on the task at hand, and force people to avoid certain situations that might trigger them, thereby interfering with their social and professional lives.
Feeling alone or ashamed: people might feel like their OCD symptoms will not be well-received by others and in turn want to hide them. They will be less likely to go out and socialize, making them feel lonely and not understood. They might have trouble maintaining relationships if their intrusive thoughts make it hard for them or the other party to continue.
High anxiety: OCD is a type of anxiety disorder, and people will get immensely anxious and stressed out if they do not give in to their compulsion, which leads to a feeling of powerlessness.
Most people who receive treatment for OCD see a significant improvement in their life quality. Start seeking for treatments by talking to a General Practitioner who can direct you to qualified professionals. Treatment methods include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes affect your feelings and behavior
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): therapy specifically designed for OCD where you confront your obsessions and resist the urge to carry out the compulsions
Medications such as SSRIs can help increase serotonin level, helpful in treating OCD as well as depression
Support groups where you can meet other people going through the same experience can make it less isolating and expedite recovery
OCD often co-occur with other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s important for people with OCD to seek professional help to understand the full scope of their mental health condition so they can have a more personalized and effective treatment plan.
What can we do to help
There are misconceptions and stereotypes of people with OCD that belittle their experience. Jokes about having “OCD tendencies” when your condition is nowhere serious enough to fit a diagnosis reduce the disorder and make it seem like people with OCD are just eccentric and have a choice to “act normal” if they want. OCD is a disorder that needs proper care and treatment over long periods of time, and we need to acknowledge it as such.
Share this post to inform others about OCD. If you perceive OCD symptoms in the people around you, encourage them to seek professional help and be supportive during their treatment. Speak up against any form of bullying, ostracizing, and discrimination against people with OCD and mental disorders when you see it.
Photo Cover Credit: Additude