It’s easy to be obsessive or compulsive about things in our everyday lives. From double checking we’ve locked the door to going back into our home to make sure we’ve turned the gas hob is off, it’s normal to need that reassurance or to doubt yourself. Life is busy after all and our heads can be filled with so much ‘noise’ that it becomes easy to forget things or to ‘coast’ along doing the more mundane jobs without thought that makes us forget whether we’ve done them or not. Hence the habit of unlocking the door ‘just to check’ becoming part of your life.
For some people however, this behaviour becomes a bit more than a habit. Causing fear and anxiety, obsessions come in the form of thoughts, images, urges and doubts. The distress caused by those obsessions lead to compulsive behaviours and repetitive activities such as checking a door is locked or washing hands to relieve the anxiety. The trouble is the relief felt is short lived and the cycle can start again, day after day.
Worry over dirt and germs is a common obsession and can lead to compulsive cleaning habits to try and keep the environment sterile. From tidying cupboards to carpet cleaning, living with OCD can start to control the lives of those who suffer from it. Leading to a great deal of fear and distress, OCD also takes up a great deal of time disrupting normal life patterns such as going to work and spending time with friends and family.
The causes of OCD are not clear though it may run in families and be linked to particular inherited genes that affect the brain’s development. Major life events such as family break ups or bereavement can be a trigger in those with genetic tendencies towards the condition. Certainly images of the brain have shown those with OCD are different from those without the condition. Serotonin also plays a part. The brain uses serotonin to transmit information from brain cell to brain cell and studies have shown some of those with OCD have an imbalance of serotonin, with decreased levels of the chemical in their brain.
Around 750,000 people are affected by OCD in the UK, an estimated 12 in every 1000. It shows no preferences, affecting men, women and children and although problems can develop at any age, they typically appear during early adulthood.
Due to the level of shame and embarrassment surrounding the condition, those suffering from OCD are reluctant to seek help. However, it’s essential to seek help as symptoms rarely improve without professional support and could get worse if not addressed. Going to your GP is the best place to start and if they suspect ODC, they will refer you to be assessed by a specialist.
The good news is the prognosis is good for those living with OCD. Many will be cured of their condition or their symptoms will be reduced enough so they can enjoy life again. Treatments for OCD include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Rather than focusing on past issues, CBT deals with your current situation and looks for ways to improve your daily state of mind. SSRI’s alter the balance of chemicals in the brain leading to a reduction in symptoms. OCD groups that can offer support and help reduce feelings of loneliness should be considered. Knowing there are others out there with the condition and listening to their experiences can offer encouragement and support recovering.