What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

All humans worry from time to time. However, for those living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), worrisome thoughts can quickly become obsessions that can only be relieved with compulsive behaviours. Here, we’ll dive into what this mental illness comprises, the myths about OCD, and where to seek treatment.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. Typically, someone living with OCD has all-encompassing thoughts, also called obsessions. They may engage in activities, or compulsions, that they feel help them control or reduce their obsessions. 

For example, if someone has obsessive thoughts about their fear of germs, their compulsion might be to wash their hands frequently. 

1-2 percent of Canadians will experience OCD; half of whom started showing gradual symptoms as children or teenagers. Only 15 percent begin having symptoms after the age of 35. 

Symptoms of OCD

For a behaviour to constitute OCD, it must consume more than one hour per day and seriously impede social and/or occupational functioning. 

Some common obsessions include:

  • Fear of contamination from germs, chemicals, or dirt.
  • Perfection and avoiding mistakes at all costs.
  • Fear of harming oneself or others.
  • Fear of intrusive or “forbidden” thoughts.

Some common compulsions include: 

  • Excessive and ritualistic cleaning or personal hygiene.
  • Excessively checking for safety, like making sure all the doors are locked.
  • Organizing and arranging items until they “feel right” or perfect.
  • Mentally repeating a word, phrase, or prayer.
  • Counting or tapping in a specific way to a specific number. 

Myths About OCD

OCD’s portrayal in the media has allowed myths about this disorder to spread. Contrary to what the movies and TV shows depict, enjoying a tidy house does not mean one is living with OCD. Here are some other myths.

Everyone has a little OCD in them, right?

Wrong. OCD is not a personality trait or a quirk we’re all born with. Those living with this mental illness can’t choose to hide or switch off their illness. 

OCD is all about being obsessed with cleaning and washing hands and counting.

These are some of the common compulsions that those living with OCD may experience, but the list is not exclusive and there are many other compulsions people may experience. 

Treatment for OCD

OCD is treatable. The most effective form of treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is administered through talk therapy. 90 percent of people living with OCD notice improvement after completing CBT. Some people also benefit from doctor prescribed medication and support groups. 

Where to Access Treatment for OCD

The most common place to start on the journey to OCD recovery is with a therapist or psychologist trained in CBT. You can find free and publicly funded CBT in your Canadian city on eMentalHealth.ca.

AbilitiCBT is a free program for Ontarians which provides you with a therapist, an online CBT course, and scheduled online talk sessions. 

Sunnybrook Hospital is home to Canada’s first facility to offer OCD-specific services, The Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre. They specifically treat those with severe OCD. 

You can also find peer support for living with OCD on the website, OCD Canada.

Interested in Learning More About Anxiety Disorders?

Eli’s Place has an abundance of information and helpful guidance on managing anxiety and finding resources for treatment. Click here to learn more. 

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