When we think of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), many of us have a “Hollywoodized” idea of what it actually is due to the fact that the idea of it is thrown around so loosely in the media and popular culture. Phrases like “I’m so OCD” is a bit of a commonly used term however it sadly takes away from the incapacitating severity of this disorder. Many people think OCD is a personality trait or worse still a phase that someone goes through at some point of their lives however this could not be further from the truth.
As per the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is classified as an anxiety disorder. It explains that Obsessions are defined by “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive, unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress. The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some thought or action (i.e., by performing a compulsion).” In other words, a person experiences and becomes fixated on recurrent distressing thoughts which are known as obsessions. These thoughts can be extremely distressing and cause a lot of anxiety. In order to cope with the distress of the obsessions, the individual often then develops actions also known as compulsions or rituals which they feel absolutely compelled to perform in order to alleviate the anxiety associated with the obsessions
Contrary to the popular misconceptions that OCD is a disorder of “neatness” or “cleanliness”, we must all try to increase our awareness around the fact that there are many different sub-types of OCD. Perhaps an alternative way to look at is that there are many behaviours that fall under the umbrella term OCD.
Here are 5 of the most common sub-types:
- Checking OCD: One of the more common types where people compulsively check locks, lights, appliances and various other things . This behaviour is riddled with anxiety and causes significant distress. The sufferer simply must perform the checking in order to feel sufficiently O.K. and reduce anxiety.
- Contamination OCD: Another very common type of OCD where the sufferer is overcome by thoughts of dirt, germs and contamination so much they are known to spend hours washing or cleaning themselves and/or their environment for hours on end. This can often cause physical bodily harm (due to excessive washing), and can also interfere with jobs and relationships.
- Mental Contamination OCD: This is a slightly lesser know form of OCD and is often much more difficult to spot. In this case the person is consumed with the fact that they may be “internally unclean” i.e. that they may be having unclean or bad thoughts. There many be many and various compulsions that the sufferer may use to clean themselves.
- Hoarding OCD: With this type, the sufferer simply finds it impossible to part with or discard old or unusable items or they may be unable to break the compulsion of collecting a large numbers of useless items.
- Intrusive Thoughts OCD: This is another one of the lesser known forms of OCD but can unfortunately can be one of the most distressing and most difficult to understand. It occurs when random intrusive, unwanted, disturbing thoughts pop into the sufferer’s head. These tend to be linked to subject areas that the sufferer already has very strong views e.g. having unwanted thoughts around sexuality, paedophelia, religion, violence, family members…and various other subjects. For example a person may be could be walking past a playground and suddenly out of nowhere a thought pops into their head like “What if I fancy children?” This is a thought with most people can just dismiss themselves easily by thinking “Don’t be ridiculous, that is not the case, you are not a paedophile, and never will be” however someone with this type of OCD will hang on to the thought, it will torture them and they will have real difficulty overcoming the stress and anxiety of this thought.
We have just touched the tip of the iceberg of OCD. It’s a serious and often debilitating anxiety disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Instead of trivializing it, let’s educate ourselves more and spread awareness.
Video: Copyright of ‘The International OCD Foundation”: Uncovering OCD: The Truth About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder