How Does OCD Affect People?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is made up of two parts: Having uncontrollable anxious thoughts and fears about something (obsession) and strong urges to keep doing certain things because of those fears (compulsion).

OCD can make life very difficult, but most people recover well with the right treatment and support.

How does OCD affect people?

A person with OCD can have upsetting obsessive thoughts, compulsions or both together.

Obsessions are things we can't stop thinking or worrying about. Compulsions are things we are driven to do out of a fear that something terrible will happen if we don't.

Aside from feeling anxious and fearful, OCD can also be very disruptive and stop people getting on with day-to-day tasks.

People with OCD often develop rituals they have to go through in order to feel less anxious.

For example, they could have a compulsion to do with security and worry about the safety of their home.

They may develop a ritual of checking every door and window in a certain order before leaving the home.

If something stops them going through the ritual, they can get very anxious or even have a panic attack. They may then feel they have to go through the whole ritual again to get it 'right', and check every door and window again.

It's easy to see how, if they were rushing to catch a train or get to school, their OCD could get in the way.

Why do people get OCD?

Nobody knows exactly why. Scientists think that there may be differences in the brains of people who develop OCD.

In particular, people with OCD seem to have too little of one of the body's natural 'feelgood' chemicals, serotonin.

Although stress does not cause it, a stressful event can trigger OCD in people who are at risk of developing it.

Are there certain things that OCD is always about?

OCD can be about anything and differs from person to person.

Common subjects include:

  • Germs, cleanliness and hand washing
  • Things to do with food and eating
  • Safety and security
  • The need to make everything perfect
  • Checking things
  • Touching things
  • Needing to do things in a set order or a set number of times.

How is OCD treated?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be used to help people identify and stop their anxious, obsessive thoughts and feelings and to change the way they behave.

Drug treatments can be used to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. This helps with symptoms of OCD and reduces anxiety and depression.

To do this, a group of drugs called Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors are used (SSRIs). Fluoxetine is one of these drugs which can be given to children and young people.

Drug treatment usually starts to work in about 4 - 6 weeks and can continue for up to a year, depending on advice from a doctor.

Many people find that a mixture of drug treatments and CBT work best.

What should I do if I think I have OCD?

The first thing to do is to see your doctor.

They will usually be able to arrange for you to see a psychiatrist or psychologist who specialises in treating OCD.

It also helps to talk about your feelings.

If you can't talk to someone you know and trust, call a helpline like Childline on 0800 1111. 

In the meantime, try to make sure you're looking after yourself and getting the basics right.