Understanding OCD And How To Help Those Who Have It

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when a person experiences a series of recurring unwanted thoughts or fears, known as obsessions, that cause them to perform repetitive behaviors, known as compulsions.

The pattern of having intrusive thoughts followed by acting out the subsequent actions often has a negative impact on daily routine and can lead to significant emotional distress.

In many cases, compulsive¹ activities are used to address anxiety or stress. However, the incessant desire to perform these activities end up causing more anxiety or stress. Regardless of what you might do to make these intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors stop, they cannot be ignored or avoided.

As a result, individuals with OCD develop ritualistic behaviors that repeat themselves daily.

Many cases of OCD will involve a particular theme. For instance, if you are afraid of someone breaking into your home, you may check to ensure your doors are locked a dozen times before going to bed. OCD can bring a certain level of shame or embarrassment to those who experience it, but it is possible to manage the condition with professional treatment. 

What are the symptoms of OCD?

While the signs, symptoms, and experience of OCD can vary greatly between individuals who have been diagnosed with the condition, most cases of OCD exhibit three distinct elements:

  • Obsessions: A disturbing, intrusive, or unwanted thought will enter the person’s mind and repeat itself indefinitely.

  • Emotions: The obsession leads to significant emotional distress and/or anxiety.

  • Compulsions: The negative feelings caused by the obsession will lead to a particular behavior that the person feels compelled to perform.

It's normal for someone to have an occasional negative thought or irrational fear. The difference between an unpleasant thought and an obsession is when the thought that consumes your mind is persistent and reoccurs. Common obsessions that affect people with OCD include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by something, such as a disease or germs

  • A need for extreme organization or tidiness

  • Fear of hurting yourself or someone else on purpose

  • Fear of hurting yourself or someone else on accident

As a response to intrusive thoughts, compulsions may begin in an effort to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. However, compulsive behavior often has little to no effect on the obsession. Even though the person experiencing the obsession may realize that logically the compulsion won't help, they must still do it. Common compulsive behaviors that people with OCD perform include:

  • Washing hands

  • Cleaning

  • Counting

  • Organizing

  • Checking to see if something is right

  • Repeating words in their mind

  • Asking for reassurance

  • Hoarding

  • Avoiding things that could trigger their obsessions

What causes OCD?

It's unclear what exactly causes OCD. While this is true, certain factors could make you more likely to develop the condition. People with a parent or sibling with OCD are more likely to be diagnosed with it.

In addition, studies have shown that individuals with OCD could have differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain, which are the areas that enable them to control their behavioral and emotional responses.

Research also indicates that there could be a connection between OCD and people who have experienced childhood trauma.

How is OCD treated?

OCD can be effectively managed with a combination of psychotherapy and medications administered by a healthcare professional. Depending on your particular condition and circumstances, your healthcare provider may use psychotherapy techniques, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), habit reversal, thought stopping, and saturation.

Family and group therapy may also be beneficial in treating OCD. Likewise, some antidepressants are effective at managing OCD.

How to help someone with OCD

If you know someone exhibiting signs of OCD or has been diagnosed with the condition, taking the time to better understand what they're going through and showing your support can be beneficial in helping them manage their symptoms.

Here are some practical ways to educate yourself about OCD and help your loved one who is experiencing it:

Do your research

Taking advantage of resources on OCD can help you better understand what your friend or family member is experiencing mentally and physically. Most importantly, it can help you debunk any misconceptions about OCD, including that the person lacks the willpower to stop their behavior.

Listen to the person's experience

Encourage your friend or family member to talk about what they're going through so that you can let them know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Encourage them to seek treatment

Even though having a listening ear is important, OCD is most effectively treated with a professional's help. Help them find a therapist they can trust who specializes in OCD. 

Don't enable OCD behaviors

While it can be easy to get sucked into the OCD cycle to help your loved one feel better, this isn't helpful. Strive not to reinforce their actions by setting goals together, sticking with a healthy routine, and attending therapy sessions together. 

The lowdown

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious condition that occurs when a person experiences intrusive thoughts that lead to them performing repetitive actions and causing significant emotional distress.

While it can be difficult to watch someone you know struggle with OCD, having a strong support system and seeking professional treatment can help manage their symptoms.

You can help someone with OCD by learning more about the condition, listening to their experience, encouraging them to get therapy, and doing your best to not enable their OCD behaviors.

  1. What is OCD? | International OCD Foundation

Other sources:

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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