Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

You may have heard the term OCD used before, in both the correct and incorrect way. Many believe that OCD is simply about cleanliness (like obsessively washing hands), however it’s so much more than that. But what is OCD, and how do you know if you have it?

Young woman with pink hair sat on her bed reading from her laptop

In this article:

  1. What is OCD?
  2. Types of OCD behaviours
  3. What causes OCD?
  4. Do I have OCD?
  5. What treatments are there for OCD?

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – also known as OCD – is an anxiety disorder that can affect both adults and children. The symptoms of OCD often appear around puberty or young adulthood.

If you suffer with OCD, you might believe that if you don’t do a certain behaviour, then something terrible will happen as a result. The behaviours and bad thoughts vary from person to person, but what they have in common is that they can quickly overtake a person’s life.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Thoughts

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. And that’s something that most people have done at some point in their life. However, OCD is so much more than that. Signs that you might have OCD 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

If you don’t have OCD, these behaviours might seem quite irrational to you – but to the OCD sufferer, they can be incredibly debilitating. They’re often quite aware that their compulsions don’t make sense, but feel unable to make the obsessive thoughts stop.

Types of OCD behaviours

If you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and have experienced the thoughts mentioned above, then you might have also felt a need to do something to make the thought go away. Again, this varies from person to person, but can roughly be put into the following categories:


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.

Contamination / Mental Contamination

Excessively cleaning yourself or your surroundings – and checking they’re still clean – so you don’t get contaminated. It can also include doing mental rituals in your head (like counting to a certain number) to neutralise a bad thought.

Symmetry and ordering

A common obsessive behaviour is rearranging items until they feel ‘just right’. It’s an obsessive tidiness or need for things to be in a particular place which can sometimes lead to you being late for things and can be very emotionally draining.

Intrusive Thoughts

This is constantly asking for reassurance from others, such as friends and family. You might find yourself obsessing over thoughts such as “did I do anything wrong? Are you sure?” where others don’t perceive any issues between you at all.


Sometimes, OCD manifests itself in hoarding. In this case, a person might feel unable to throw away useless items, for fear that something catastrophic will happen if they do. It’s more than feeling a little attached to your belongings!

What causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

There’s a lot of debate in the medical community about, scientifically, how you get OCD – generally, you might have OCD for a number of reasons, including:

      • Family history – You might be more prone to it if someone in your family does. 
      • Chemicals in the brain – Similar to anxiety or depression, levels of serotonin in the brain can cause OCD. 
      • Life experiences – A traumatic event, such as bullying or abuse, can lead to obsessive behaviours.
      • Personality – Some people have natural personality traits that can lead to OCD. For example, if you’re quite particular or have high personal standards.

Do I have OCD?

While everyone might experience obsessive thoughts at some point, OCD becomes a problem when the feeling of relief after completing the action gets shorter – and therefore you feel a need to do it 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.

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</p>

Soon you’re trapped by your thoughts and actions, unable to break the cycle of fear and repetition. It can sometimes feel like it’s just something that you have to learn to live with, but that’s not the case. There are treatments available to help lessen the impact OCD can have on your life.

What treatments are there for OCD?

The first step towards getting help with Obsessive Compulsive disorder is to visit your GP. They’ll listen to you talk through your rituals and symptoms, and may diagnose you with OCD. Once you have a diagnosis, you’ll be able to research what types of treatment might work best for you.


Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – or CBT – is regularly used to treat OCD. Simply put, it’s a talking therapy where you can learn more about your thought processes and where they come from. Your therapist will try to help you overcome the obsessive thoughts and rituals over time.


If your GP feels that your OCD might be the result of an underlying condition such as depression, they might suggest a prescription for antidepressants. If you have any questions about antidepressants, we’ve got the answers 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 offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • 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.



By Toni

Updated on 09-Oct-2020