Many of us have small habits that make us feel better, but we can also live without them. For example, we might think of something as ‘lucky’ or have a routine that feels comforting. But for people who experience obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these behaviours are much more intense and disruptive and are fuelled by unwanted thoughts that don’t go away. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not always easy to understand, but it’s a real illness that causes difficulties in a person’s life.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition. It’s made up of two parts: obsessions and compulsions. People may experience obsessions, compulsions, or both, and they cause a lot of distress.
Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges, or images that don’t go away. They cause a lot of anxiety. For example, a student might worry about picking up germs from their classmates. Obsessions can focus on anything. These obsessive thoughts can be uncomfortable. Obsessions aren’t thoughts that a person would normally focus on, and they are not about a person’s character. They are signs of an illness.
Compulsions are actions meant to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions. Compulsions may be behaviours like washing, cleaning, or ordering things in a certain way. Other actions are not obvious to others. For example, a student may count things or repeat phrases in their mind. Some people describe it as feeling like they have to do something until it feels ‘right.’ It’s important to understand that compulsions are a way to cope with obsessions. Someone who experiences OCD may experience distress if they can’t complete the compulsion.
People who experience OCD usually know that obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, but they still feel like they can’t control them. Obsessions and compulsions can also change over time.
Who does it affect?
OCD can affect anyone. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes OCD, but there are likely many different factors involved, such as family history, biology, and life experiences.
What intervention is available?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be very challenging and hard to explain to other people. Students living with the disorder may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about their experiences. These feelings can make it hard for them to seek help. Because obsessions and compulsions take a lot of time, it can be hard for them to go about their daily life. Many people describe OCD as something that takes over their life, and this is not easy to deal with. But the good news is that there are interventions available for those living with OCD. It is important to direct students to services on campus for support and intervention.