Several of the posts in this blog have already examined the link between childhood trauma and anxiety. In this post, I want to consider one specific anxiety based disorder known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When a person has this disorder, as its name suggests, s/he suffers recurring obsessions and/or compulsions. I define these below :
OBSESSIONS – intrusive and anxiety creating thoughts, images or impulses
COMPULSIONS – behaviours or mental acts intended to reduce the anxiety the obsession causes (but which, in fact, actually makes the anxiety worse over the long-term). Any effect the compulsion has on reducing the anxiety created by the obsession is temporary.
I show below how thoughts, feelings and behaviours flow into each other to keep the symptoms of OCD going :
OBSESSIONS (intrusive thoughts or images related to contamination, sexuality, danger, morality etc) >>>>>DISTRESS (eg shame, fear)>>>>>COMPULSION (repetitive behaviours or mental acts aimed at reducing the anxiety created by the obsession)>>>>>TEMPORARY RELIEF>>>>>OBSESSIONS (intrusive thoughts or images related to contamination, sexuality, danger, morality etc)>>>>> (eg shame, fear)>>>>>COMPULSIONS (repetitive behaviours or mental acts aimed at reducing the anxiety created by the obsession)>>>>>TEMPORARY RELIEF>>>>> and so on…and so on…leading to chronic distress.
In order for a person to be diagnosed with OCD, the following criteria normally have to be met :
a) the obsessions and compulsions cause significant distress
b) the obsessions and compulsions significantly interfere with day to day functioning.
c) the behaviours engendered by the OCD take up about an hour a day or more
d) the person with OCD is aware, at least at some level, that his/her behaviours are excessive and illogical
It is, of course, necessary to get a diagnosis from a professional as opposed to trying to self-diagnose.
HOW PREVALENT IS OCD THROUGHOUT THE GENERAL POPULATION?
It is estimated that approximately 2-3% of the population will suffer from OCD at some point during their lives. However, this may well be an underestimate as many people choose to keep their condition a secret. Research indicates, however, that OCD is becoming increasingly common.
Whilst the condition can begin in childhood, its onset is more common in late adolescence. It seems to be equally common in both men and women. However, women are more likely to seek out treatment for the disorder.
OCD can be made worse by stress. Also, those who suffer from OCD often suffer from other conditions as well. These include :
– panic attacks
– specific phobias
– eating disorders
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON OBSESSIONS/COMPULSIONS?
In descending order. the most common are :
– checking and cleaning
– needing to ask or confess
– symmetry/ordering rituals
It should also be noted that people often have multiple obsessions/compulsions and these can change over time.
Due to the amount of distress OCD causes, and its link to other serious psychological conditions, if a person suspects s/he suffers from it, it is very important to seek out professional advice.
I examine OCD further in Part 2.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).