Do I have OCD?

OCD isn’t just about washing your hands a lot. This misunderstood condition of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviour can rule your life. But what is OCD? And how do you know if you have it?

Girl keeps touching doorknob

I'll just check one more time...

The term OCD gets bandied about a lot – often people say ‘Ooo, I’m a bit OCD’ to describe being tidy, or a little bit anal. But people who actually have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder aren’t likely to be shouting about it from the rooftops. Here’s why.

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where you have frequent upsetting obsessive ‘bad’ thoughts. Often sufferers try to control these thoughts by compulsively repeating an action.

What kind of bad thoughts?

These vary, and include any unpleasant thoughts that a sufferer feels unable to ‘turn off’. But they can include:

  • Worrying that something terrible will happen
  • Thinking you’re dirty, or smelly, or contaminated somehow and you’re going to get sick
  • Worrying you’re going to hurt other people
  • Convincing yourself that something horrific will happen to the people you love
  • Worrying that you’ll lose control somehow – either by shouting out in public, or wetting or pooing yourself, or vomiting

Sound silly? Often sufferers are completely aware that their obsessions are irrational and illogical, yet the fear these thoughts create is real and terrifying.

What kind of compulsions?

Again, these vary – and are usually linked to combating the initial bad thought. But some include:

  • Constantly and repeatedly checking things, sometimes for a ‘magical’ number of times, e.g. taps, locks, windows, sell-by-dates on food, or repeatedly going to the toilet to check you don’t need it.
  • Rearranging items until they feel ‘just right’.
  • Excessively cleaning yourself or your surroundings – and checking they’re still clean – so you don’t get contaminated.
  • Doing mental rituals in your head (like counting to a certain number) to neutralise a bad thought.
  • Avoiding any situation where you feel you may lose control of yourself, or get dirty, or catch something.
  • Constantly asking for reassurance from others: did I do anything wrong? Are you sure?

How do you get OCD?

To some extent, OCD is a pretty logical condition. You’re scared about something, you do an action that makes you feel better, you get relief, relief feels good, so you do it again – that makes sense really.

OCD develops as the feelings of relief become more short-lived – so you keep repeating an action to feel OK again. And, if your behaviour keeps getting proved ‘right’ – ‘I did all these things so nothing bad will happen to my parents, and my parents are fine, so it worked ‘ the risk of not doing it becomes too great. Soon you’re trapped by your thoughts and actions, unable to break the cycle of fear and repetition.

There’s a lot of debate in the medical community about, scientifically, how you get OCD – you can read a summary of these findings here.

Do I have OCD?

All of us have OCD to some extent. We all panic occasionally that we’ve left the door unlocked and check it a bit too much from time to time. If you’re worried you may have OCD, our advice is to always go talk to your doctor. You’re likely to be diagnosed if your obsessions and compulsions:

  • Take up a LOT of your time – at least an hour every day
  • Completely interfere with your life – your relationships, your social life, and going to school or work
  • Are causing you huge anxiety, stress and turmoil

Treatment for OCD

OCD is not something that will show up on a blood or urine test, but your GP will be able to give you a questionnaire to fill out about your symptoms and rituals. It’s best to use only questionnaires suggested by your GP as the ones you find online may not be accurate.

Often Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is used to treat OCD – you can read more about CBT here. It’s a talking therapy that will challenge your underlying thought processes; it also builds up slowly to challenging your rituals, too. We know this sounds terrifying, but it’s done in a very staggered way, and you don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.

Medication like SSRIs – also known as antidepressants – can also be helpful. Sometimes the drugs can help make you feel brave enough to take on some of the challenges a therapist will set. If you have any questions about antidepressants, we’ve got the answers here, and if you’re unsure whether to take them, you can explore this here.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • SANE offer support and information to people affected by mental illness. 0300 304 7000
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 22-Dec-2015