Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects 1.2% of adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. More than 2.3% will struggle at some point in their entire lifetimes. While that number may seem small, it translates to more than 2.2 million adults in the United States who suffer from OCD on an annual basis.
OCD doesn’t always present with typical symptoms. Obsessive hand-washing, repeatedly checking locks on doors, having to touch objects a set number of times. Or the need to keep everything in the house clean, orderly, and germ-free are classic symptoms that many associate with the condition.
However, there’s much more to understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder than meets the eye.
The Different Forms of OCD
The behaviors discussed above are textbook cases of OCD and are what the media most often portrays. But there are many more forms of the condition than people realize. The multiple types of OCD can be broken down into general categories, and each entails their own set of specific symptoms and behaviors.
Checking is a compulsive behavior that those with OCD can’t control, no matter how hard they try. They may spend an excessive amount of time reading and re-reading emails to make sure they didn’t miss something, or to make sure they didn’t say something that a person may take out of context. Many people don’t recognize this as a symptom of OCD.
Additionally, they may present symptoms associated with hypochondria. Worried about grave medical conditions, those who struggle with this form of OCD may repeatedly look up symptoms of a disease. They may schedule repeated doctor appointments and continuously check their bodies for signs of illness.
The “typical” symptoms of checking included making sure doors are locked, checking that stoves are turned off, and so on.
Those who are diagnosed with OCD, presenting with fears of contamination, are most likely to be obsessed with hand-washing and cleaning. They may be afraid of crowds, or even of being outside. These symptoms are often associated with anthropophobia and agoraphobia (the phobias of people and leaving the house).
Individuals with an obsessive fear of contamination are likely to avoid shaking hands with people, use hand sanitizer frequently, or avoid touching certain items such as money or bags of garbage at all costs.
A rumination is a form of OCD that many people know little about, and it’s hard to identify unless a person discloses their symptoms. It entails obsessive thoughts. It is characterized by thinking about specific questions or ideas for extended periods in an unproductive manner.
These questions often include existential thoughts such as “what is the meaning of life?” Or “what happens when we die?” Questions that the person cannot answer.
4) Intrusive Thoughts
Intrusive thoughts are another form of OCD that you are unlikely to recognize unless an individual shares their symptoms with you. These intrusive thoughts are repetitive and disturbing to the individual, though they are unable to exert control over them.
Examples of intrusive thoughts include thinking of a loved one’s death obsessively, despite that individual being in good health. Thoughts of natural disasters or accidents when no threat is imminent are also common.
What to Understand About OCD
It’s important to understand that individuals struggle in silence and may not even recognize that they have the condition. The misrepresentation and misunderstanding of OCD are what makes it so difficult to identify, treat, and understand.
Helping Someone With OCD
OCD is a serious mental health condition, and if you know someone who is struggling, it’s crucial to understand that it is not something they can control. Telling someone to “stop doing that” isn’t helpful and can cause the individual even more emotional distress.
People who struggle with OCD experience extreme anxiety and fear when they don’t act on their compulsions, or when they experience disturbing intrusive thoughts. OCD is not merely a behavior, but a disrupted function in the brain.
Professional Help for OCD
OCD is a chronic condition, meaning that it is not possible to cure. However, a professional can help effectively manage the disease through a combination of therapy and medication. Many go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
If you are struggling with OCD or believe a loved one may need help, seek a professional opinion as soon as possible. Life can get better.