Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where people experience recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas (obsession) and overwhelming urges to do certain things over and over again (compulsion).
We all have unwanted thoughts at times that can make us feel worried or scared. Most of the time, we can push them aside, or distract ourselves with something else. However, for people who have OCD, these unwanted thoughts can be persistent, harmful and take over their life.
These thoughts may be related to germs, not being able to throw things away, or terrible things happening. They can cause great anxiety and distress. People with OCD have rituals of behaviours they feel they must complete in order to manage their anxiety, or to prevent a certain situation or event from happening.
OCD can severely disrupt the lives of young people and stop them from getting to school or work on time, finishing homework, or going out with friends.
OCD can affect anyone of any age. However, symptoms commonly begin during childhood and peak during late adolescence[i]. OCD is one of the most common mental disorders and has been recognised as the fourth most common mental illness after phobias, substance abuse, and major depression.[ii]
There is no one cause of OCD. A number of different factors can contribute to it, including:
While young carers are not necessarily at higher risk of developing OCD, they are often under higher levels of stress than their peers who don’t have the added responsibility of caring. Young carers who look after someone with OCD may have a higher risk of developing it too.
But this doesn’t mean that you will get OCD.
OCD is a condition that features unwanted thoughts that may feel intrusive and overwhelming, and cause a great amount of stress and anxiety. These may include:
OCD also involves compulsive behaviours (behaviours or routines that you must follow), which helps to manage the stress and uncertainty caused by these thoughts. These OCD compulsions may include:
Almost everyone experiences the thoughts that people with OCD have. It’s normal to worry about things like sickness or dying, especially if you’re caring for someone who is ill. Going back to check on things is also normal behaviour — we’ve all gone back to check we’ve locked a door, or turned off a tap.
However, if you can’t ignore unpleasant thoughts and turn your attention to other things, or if you feel driven to engage in a particular routine or behaviour to make you feel like everything is okay, then you may need help.
This example might help make things clearer, by putting these symptoms into perspective:
Harry is a 14-year old who helps his mum take care of his dad who has a low immune system. In order for his dad to stay well, his mum makes sure that their house is clean and that anyone who is sick stays away.
Because of his dad’s health, Harry sometimes worries about what would happen if he got really sick and needed to go to hospital. Sometimes he even thinks about what would happen to his family if his dad died. This makes him feel very anxious, stressed and afraid.
As a way to cope, Harry starts tapping 3 times for luck, every time he feels anxious about his dad. After a while, Harry starts to complete 3 sets of 3 taps. Soon, Harry is performing this routine before he leaves for school each day, and before he goes into every class. He also starts taking extra care about washing his hands, knowing that germs could make his dad sick. At school, he washes his hands multiple times at every break. He also spends lots of time at home washing his hands because he is worried about spreading germs. Harry begins to have constant thoughts about his dad dying from the germs that he brings home from school. He knows that these thoughts don’t make sense because germs can come from anywhere, but he can’t help it.
Harry also starts to insist that everyone’s clothes are washed each day, and that the bathrooms are cleaned in the morning and in the evening, as a way to keep the germs away. He also begins to shower 3 times a day (morning, after school and before bed) because 3 is the magic number that will kill the germs and keep his dad safe. When his mum tells him that they don’t need to clean the bathroom that often, and that Harry only needs to have one shower each day, he becomes upset and even more anxious, believing that if his dad gets sick and dies, it will be all his fault.
In the example above, Harry has some very normal reactions to his life:
However, Harry also shows some symptoms of OCD:
It’s very common for people with OCD to feel ashamed about their thoughts and the need to carry out their compulsive behaviours. If you can recognise any of the above symptoms, it’s important you speak to someone such as a teacher, support worker or counsellor. Remember, you’re not alone. There are a lot of people available who can help you and treatment can be very effective. Treatment to help you feel better usually involves speaking to a mental health professional.
Other things you can do include:
OCD is a condition that can take over your life and prevent you from doing the things that you want and need to do. It’s important that you speak to your doctor about what’s going on, because with the right treatment, you can reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
To speak to someone, you can call:
Kids Help Line — 1800 55 1800
Headspace — 1800 650 890
Lifeline — 13 11 14. You can also ask for help via text message on 0477 13 11 14
You can find more information about OCD at:
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