Your roommate says it’s weird. You arrange canned goods so the labels face forward, pre-paste your toothbrush before showering, and get nervous if you can’t do these things. These may not be eccentricities or personality quirks. Instead, you could be experiencing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Fortunately, OCD symptoms are manageable.
The Impact Of OCD
OCD is often a lifetime disorder that affects millions in the U.S. Consider these statistics:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects about 1.2 percent of adults (per a National Institute of Mental Health).
- The age group with the highest incidence: people aged 18-29 (1.5 percent), followed by people 30-44 (1.4 percent), and people 45 or older (1.6 percent).
- According to the International OCD Foundation, about 500,000 children under 18 have the illness.
Do I Have OCD Symptoms?
People with OCD may experience obsessions, compulsions, or a combination of both.
Obsessions are repetitive thoughts, desires, or mental pictures that trigger anxiety.
Common Obsessions Include:
- You’re fearful of germs or infection
- You’re afraid of forgetting, wasting, or misplacing an item of perceived value
- You’re afraid you’re going to lose control of your behavior and embarrass yourself or be judged harshly as a result
- You have aggressive thoughts about yourself or someone else
- You have unwanted, illicit, or taboo thoughts about religion, harm, or of an adult nature
- You have a strong desire to make sure things are proportioned or in ideal order
Obsessions may cause painful emotions such as disgust or anxiety. What is worse is if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you likely understand that thoughts, instincts, or mental images are a product of your imagination and are extreme or unreasonable. But the distress triggered by such intrusive thoughts can’t be solved by logic or any measure of reasoning. Your most likely course of action is to try to relieve the anguish of the obsessions through compulsions, disregard or conceal the obsessions, or distract yourself by doing something else. And if you recognize you’re running in a vicious circle, you’re right.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors where you desire to do something in reply to an obsessive idea.
Common Compulsions Include:
- Excessive cleaning or handwashing
- Ordering or placing items in a specific way
- Repetitively checking things around the house
- Compulsive counting
These behaviors normally prevent or lower your distress linked to an obsession. Compulsions can be excessive reactions correlated to an obsession (think of excessively washing your hands because you’re afraid of being contaminated) or even doing something completely irrelevant to the obsession. In the most acute cases, a continuous repetition of practices can fill your entire day, making it impossible to handle everyday chores.
Can I Diagnose Myself?
True diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder is only possible after examination by a medical doctor or mental health professional specializing in treating mental illnesses. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America offers a self-assessment tool, but it’s not meant to replace diagnosis by a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you have OCD, you:
- Can’t manage your obsessive thoughts or compulsions, even when recognizing they are excessive
- Spend one or more hours daily on obsessive thoughts or compulsions
- Don’t derive pleasure when doing compulsive behaviors or practices, but could get brief sustenance through the anxiety triggered by obsessive thoughts
Finally, you experience major problems in daily living due to such thoughts or behaviors.
The National Institute of Mental Health also provides other valuable information to help you decide if you need professional care.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Getting diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental illness normally follows a three-step approach. First, you can expect to undergo a physical examination to determine if an undisclosed medical problem causes your symptoms. Second, you may need to see a mental health specialist, who’ll ask about your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and try to discern if they’re triggering OCD. There will also be questions about personal and family history of mental illness. And third, your symptoms will be compared to criteria before a diagnosis is made.
Treatment may include self-help, lifestyle changes, medicine, psychotherapy, or ketamine therapy.
If you think you have OCD, the best way to know for sure is to seek professional medical advice. Only a doctor or mental health specialist can diagnose your condition and recommend treatment to bring the symptoms under control. With time and proper care, you and OCD can co-exist peacefully.