What you need to know about OCD

What you need to know about OCD

A common, chronic and long-lasting mental disorder in which a person has repeated and uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions.

That’s how the National Institute for Mental Health (NIH) defines Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s a very real and serious condition for those who suffer from it, and it can interfere with the daily lives of everyday people.

“In its most severe form, OCD can prevent individuals from being successful in normal developmental tasks,” says Dr. Joanne May, director of Behavioral Health at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “For example, a teenager with OCD might have the obsession that snakes could harm her and therefore, she may avoid walking to school.”

The disorder revolves around a cycle of obsessions and compulsions that the person living with OCD experiences. The trigger is an obsession which, according to Dr. May, can occur when an individual misinterprets a normal intrusive thought as very important or threatening. This can trick the body into reacting as if the thought is dangerous, which increases anxiety.

“It activates the fight-or-flight system and releases adrenaline, which leads to increased breathing rate, heart, sweating, muscle tension and stomach distress,” says Dr. May.

The list of possible obsessions is long. They can include a fear of germs, uncontrollable aggressive thoughts and everything in between. While obsessions increase anxiety, compulsions decrease distress, if only temporarily.

“Compulsions are responses meant to stop a bad feeling that a person with OCD has,” says Dr. May. “If someone can’t stop thinking that they perhaps did not lock the door, then it makes sense that they might repetitively lock that door in order to experience a decrease in anxiety. Unfortunately, the obsessions typically return.”

A behavioral health therapist or psychiatrist can diagnose OCD. If you believe you may have this condition, Dr. May recommends talking to your physician. While some mild forms of OCD may not be concerning, it’s important to seek help when it is more severe.

“When the OCD interferes with activities of daily living or with peers, family, work and/or school, then it would be important to seek treatment for that condition,” says Dr. May. “OCD is treatable.”

How can you help a friend or relative living with OCD?

“Family members and friends can be helpful by acknowledging that it is always more difficult to get through life when dealing with a chronic medical or behavioral health condition,” says Dr. May. “Giving accolades to impacted individuals for their efforts and not letting the eccentricities annoy you unnecessarily can boost confidence and help those afflicted with OCD to see their way through.”

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Amy Levato
Amy Levato

Amy Levato, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. She is a senior pursuing a degree in marketing at DePaul University. When she isn’t interning, she enjoys interior design, dancing and spending time with her family and friends.

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