Understanding OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, often abbreviated as OCD, causes the individual with the disorder to fixate on small things, giving them a much larger significance than they would have to someone without the disorder. These fixations are so overwhelming for the patient that they interfere with the individual’s ability to live a healthy life.

OCD – The Myths

There are many myths out there about OCD. These myths can cause problems for people who suffer from this disorder, creating stereotypes and perpetuating incorrect ideas about OCD. OCD is not, as many believe, something that just describes a person who is clean or a neat freak, for example. In OCD, a person’s concern about being neat would be so overwhelming they might not go to work or not do other essential daily tasks.

With mental health disorders, it is important to share facts. Stereotypes and misconceptions can prevent people from seeking out the help they need.

OCD – Getting a Diagnosis

In order to receive a diagnosis of OCD, a patient needs to meet certain diagnostic criteria defined within the DSM-5. As a starting point, symptoms must be so severe that they prevent the individual from executing normal daily activities. They should also experience symptoms for at least an hour each day, and these symptoms should create stress for the patient. Much of this stress comes from the fact that the patient believes failing to perform a ritual related to their fixation will result in disaster.

What Happens in OCD

The patient with OCD engages in two types of behavior: obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors.

Obsessive thinking means that the patient perseverates over and over again over a small thing that another person might never think about, such as turning a door knob. Instead of just turning the knob, the patient might think over and over again about all the different hands and different germs that have been on that knob.

From these obsessive thoughts, the patient then develops compulsive and ritualistic behaviors. These self-assigned tasks make turning the knob a safer scenario for the patient. None of these thoughts or actions are silly or overly dramatic; in fact, they can feel like life and death scenarios to the patient.

Symptoms in OCD

  • Obsessive thinking
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Execution of rituals
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Avoiding OCD triggers
  • Nightmares
  • Tendency to hoard
  • Panic attacks

How to Treat OCD

Treatment for OCD by a mental health professional can involve some or all of the following:

  • CBT
  • ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention)
  • Group therapy
  • Medication

A therapist will work with a patient to determine which interventions are the best solution for that individual.

ERP therapy involves exposing the patient over time to their OCD triggers. The patient and therapist would then discuss the patient’s experience in facing certain triggers.

Due to the compulsiveness and stress in OCD, patients sometimes need help beyond therapy. Prescribing certain medications can help ameliorate stress and other symptoms. Medications used for OCD include :

  • Fluvoxamine
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Paxil
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)