Do I Have OCD?
Do I Have OCD?
Dear Tacit,

I think I might have OCD – what can I do?

Signed: Repeating My Behaviours
Dear Repeating My Behaviours,

We hear phrases like “that’s just my OCD acting up” quite regularly in our society.  It might be a positive thing because it means that we are talking more openly about a significant mental health issue without stigma.  There is a very big difference between OCD and perfectionism issues – both of which can be quite debilitating.  True OCD is a challenge to diagnose and is much more complicated than what most people think. The best thing for you to do is to see an experienced therapist so they can help you address whatever is happening.

OCD (otherwise known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a serious and pervasive mental health issue that impacts less than 1% of our Canadian population each year (2018 Osland, Arnold and Pringsheim).  Variations of the illness and of the symptoms can often be experienced, and misdiagnoses are frequently made.  While OCD is categorized as one of the many different types of disorders relating to Anxiety, it goes well beyond basic worries or stress responses.

OCD is characterized by patterns of uncontrollable obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviours (both patterns do not need to be present).  Obsessive thoughts are uninvited and intrusive thoughts, urges or images that surface in the mind repeatedly.  Even though the person is aware that these thoughts are the creations of their own mind, they cannot control them/stop them.  The compulsive behaviours that result are typically the brain’s efforts to minimize the anxiety/stress that stems from the obsessive thought patterns.  The behaviours are often performed ritualistically, and a person can sometimes get “stuck” in the loop.  This illness takes large chunks of time from a person’s day – the thoughts or behaviour patterns are not easy to live with and can negatively impact a person’s ability to function in all aspects of their lives (in relationships, at school/work, with the daily necessities of life, etc).  OCD most commonly begins to develop in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, and is equally prevalent in both men and women.   The onset of the illness is gradual, leaving room for early intervention to be quite successful.

Many people who struggle with OCD or who have OCD-like symptoms often struggle with other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, etc. which also need to be addressed.  The causes of OCD are often linked to genetic patterns, biological factors (brain chemical imbalances), and behavioural conditioning/personality types (a higher sensitivity to certain fears and a tendency to avoid the feelings).  As such, the treatment for this illness is just as complex – a combination of certain types of therapy and the support of specific medications will usually be required.

Early intervention is key with OCD.  Being able to connect with a therapist when the obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviours are just starting can regularly stop the progression of the mental health issue before OCD develops.  Learning to become tolerant (even comfortable) with uncomfortable feelings like fear, disgust, and anxiety is essential.  Someone struggling with OCD and/or OCD type symptoms will likely not be able to address their issues alone, and finding a good therapist is the best place to start in order to get the help that is needed.

Take care!

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