FEATURE Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

FEATURE Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


OCDObsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) awareness week occurred from October, 11th to October 17th. Although this week has passed, the awareness efforts are ongoing, writes Aoife O’Rourke.

OCD is a mental illness that is known worldwide. People often use the phrase “I am so OCD” to describe their cleaning habits or their ability to keep old possessions stored away, known as hoarding. OCD sufferers take great offence to these phrases made, many think that it trivialises a serious condition and increases stigma making it difficult for people to fully understand the mental condition.

It is estimated that up to 3 in 100 adults and up to 5 in 100 children and teenagers suffer from OCD. OCD is built with obsessions. An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought or image that repeatedly enters one’s mind and unfortunately results in anxiety. The anxiety created by the obsession then leads to the compulsion. A compulsion is repetitive behaviour that one feels obliged to perform to try to erase the unwanted thought.

Some people who suffer from OCD feel that it is easier for others to understand if it is compared to Irish superstitions. Have you ever heard the superstition that if you see one magpie you must wave at it or it is bad luck? There is no logic to it, but you will do it regardless- right?  The same goes for preventing to smash a mirror in case you get 7 years of bad luck. This also applies to the superstition that every Friday the 13th is a day for bad luck, some people stay inside their houses on this date out of fear. At the back of your mind you’re afraid something bad might happen. You will do anything to save yourself from that bad luck that you may or may not have gotten. Even though you know there is no logic to your compulsions, your mind is at ease. This is how people who suffer from OCD feel on a daily basis. They become obsessed with a thought, and they cannot get rid of that thought until they have acted on it or else they fear something bad will occur.

Some OCD can be mild, yet some can develop into very severe. For some people, the obsessive thoughts and compulsions last for an hour a day but for others it takes over their entire life. There are many different forms of OCD; some people suffer from continuously checking objects and items. Some suffer from contamination, feeling the need to clean and wash in case of the spread of germs and illnesses. Hoarding is the inability to throw out useless possessions. Other types of OCD include ruminations or intrusive thoughts that are stuck in one’s mind. Unfortunately some people suffer from all kinds.

The symptoms of OCD:
1.    Obsessions occur when your mind is overwhelmed by a constant obsessive fear or concern, such as the fear that your friends are in danger.
2.    Anxiety is another symptom when the obsession starts to provoke an intense feeling of anxiety and distress.
3.    Performing a pattern of compulsive behaviour to reduce your anxiety and distress, such as checking you have turned off all switches in your house five times every night.
4.    The compulsive behaviour brings temporary relief from the anxiety cause by the obsession. The obsession and anxiety soon return, causing the pattern or cycle to begin again.

Roughly two thirds of people with OCD never look for any treatment, it is important that it is spoken about openly. Many sufferers feel ashamed of their thoughts and won’t come forward to seek help. It is important that in our society we continue to show awareness and support for the sufferers in need



  1. Thank you for bringing attention to OCD as it is such a misunderstood and often misrepresented disorder. I’d just like to add that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable and the front line treatment for OCD is a therapy known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Unfortunately many therapists are not even aware of this therapy.

    My son had OCD so severe he could not even eat, and ERP literally saved his life.Today he is a young man living life to the fullest. I recount my family’s story in my critically acclaimed book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery (Rowman & Littlefield, January 2015) and discuss all aspects of the disorder on my blog at
    http://www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com. There truly is hope for all those who suffer from
    this insidious disorder!

    • ERP does not work for everyone unfortunately. I am so glad it worked for you child. It did not work for mine. She still has ocd in a very very debilitating degree. It is not treatable for all.