Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) does not mean perfectionism or organization. Many people tend to use the abbreviation as a colloquial definition for when one wants something purposefully organized. This term is tossed around without realization on how it is belittling a real problem. I have often heard colleagues say: “I’m so OCD,” and other similar expressions. It is important to understand that OCD is not a joke, not a positive perfectionist habit, but it can be harmful to physical health as well as mental health and is a huge struggle for those afflicted.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder affecting people of all ages, and occurs when someone gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images, or urges causing distressing feelings. Compulsions are the repetitive behaviours one uses to momentarily get rid of such obsessions and distress. All of us may have some compulsive habits, but to be diagnosed with OCD, the compulsions and obsessions must take up a large amount of time and attention to be detrimental to a person’s daily routine and activities.
The obsession begins with an irrational belief or fear of some negative consequence should a compulsion not be completed. The logical understanding that this is not a valid fear and an unreasonable response causes anxiety and shame. However, more anxiety causes one to be more prone towards repetitively completing the compulsion. The brain of someone with OCD gives off “false alarm” warnings, causing the irrational fears and discomforts. Ritualistic compulsions provide a sense of relief.
- OCD symptoms usually begin at the early ages of 7-12.
- OCD occurs in about 2-3% children and adults in their life time.
- Female have a higher rate of OCD in adulthood, but higher for males in childhood.
- OCD symptoms can change over time. One may lose one compulsion and gain another.
- It is common for people with OCD to have an extreme need for the compulsions and rituals to be completed “correctly.” In teens and children it is common to ask reassurance of others.
The impacts of certain compulsions can cause the person to feel shameful, sad, anxious, rage and guilt. One may feel embarrassed if another notices and ridicules the habit. If the compulsion is something that may physically harm them, like hair-pulling and repetitive hand-washing, this can cause guilt, stress, and shame. This fear and stress can be amplified if one resists the compulsions. This can lead to physical symptoms like dizziness, heart racing, shallow breathing, stomach aches, headaches, and muscle tension. For students, this can negatively impact performance in sport and school, grades, and recreational attendance and participation. In general, stress from OCD can also damage friendships, punctuality, focus, sleep, meal times, and personal hygiene.
- washing and cleaning (hands, household items, teeth, …)
- checking (didn’t harm anyone, didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t lose anything, body’s physical condition)
- repeating (rereading, rewriting, tapping, touching, blinking, doing a task a “safe or “right” number of times, and many other rituals)
- mental (reviewing events to prevent harm, praying, counting while performing task to do “good” or “safe” number, and “cancelling” or “undoing” things, commonly by replacing a “bad” word with a “good” word)
- other (arranging things in a specific pattern or order until it “feels right”, pulling hair out or picking at skin that doesn’t “feel right”, and more)
Obsessive compulsive disorder seriously impacts people and should not be taken lightly. Is it justifiable to belittle an illness under the pretence that slang can’t hurt anyone? Many do not understand OCD, and therefore do not take it seriously. They doubt the debilitating effect of this terminology and forget that there are people struggling to retrain their brain against the compulsions and maintain normal lives. It is important to know that OCD is not a complement on one’s organization nor a remark on fussy perfectionism; it is a disorder.