Mental Health

What is OCD: Symptoms & Treatments

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OCD
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It is common to hear people say that they have OCD, saying things like, “I like to arrange things neatly, I must have OCD”, or “I really like cleanliness, I am that OCD”. But there’s a difference between some minor personality quirk that obliged one to orderliness and tidiness, and true blue OCD.

For one, there is a difference in the level of intensity, and it can seriously hamper one’s ability to function in their daily lives. Some of the more common examples include those who have a compulsion to wash their hands due to perceiving themselves as dirty, to the point that they spend most of their time in a day in front of a basin, their hands wrinkled, raw, cracked and bleeding. Some who experienced obsessive thoughts might want to avoid their own thoughts (for example of wanting to kill someone close to them), to the point of avoiding to go out for fear of meeting said person.

So, before we dive into the symptoms of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), let’s take a look at their individual components: obsession & compulsion.

What is Obsession?

One of the common points in both obsession and compulsion is that they are recurrent, repetitive, and persistent. Meaning that they are time-consuming. But there’s a difference between an obsession and a compulsion.

An obsession is mostly mental. It can be a thought (e.g. “I am fat”), an urge (e.g. “I must refrain from eating), and an image (e.g. image of one being very obese). But these thoughts, urges, and images must be persistent and recurrent, constantly coming back. And during an experience of having these thoughts, urges, and images, it must be perceived as unwanted and intrusive, for example, while going to work, suddenly being afraid that one might leave the stove open, and as such, causing an individual a significant amount of stress and anxiety.

Not only that, in order to qualify as an obsession, the individual must also have previous attempts to suppress or ignore those thoughts, or urges, or images, to reduce the stress and anxiety caused. They might even perform some acts in the attempt to neutralize such anxieties (such as the previous thought of leaving the stove open, thus the person will constantly go back to his apartment to check on his stove whenever the thought pops up). Which leads us to compulsion.

What is Compulsion?

A compulsion, unlike an obsession, can be both performed externally (i.e. through behavior, such as checking on something, cleaning something, arranging something, etc) and internally (i.e. through mental acts, such as praying, counting something, repeating a phrase or a word to themselves). These compulsions are acted upon in a ritualistic manner. It can be in response to a thought (for example, let’s say person A hates thinking about sexual imagery, perceiving them to be dirty and unclean, A will then repeat to himself the “Hail Mary” whenever he thinks of said sexual images). It can also be performed to rules set in a rigid fashion by the person themselves (let’s say whenever a person saw a statue of the Buddha, he MUST stand still and pray the entirety of the “Heart Sutra” three times).  *(these are only some examples to illustrate the symptoms, and not based upon real cases)*

Another factor that needs to be fulfilled in order to qualify as a compulsion, is that such compulsions are performed and acted upon to soothe and alleviate the anxiety and distress that is experienced by an individual, or to prevent something from happening. The actions performed, or thoughts repeated however, are quite clearly excessive, and sometimes, might not even relate to the things they are designed to prevent. For example, a person with OCD perceive his room as dirty, fearing that bacteria will kill him/her. Thus he/she will wipe everything in their room to a sparkling sheen, washing their hands constantly. But this doesn’t solve the fact that in the air, everywhere else, there are bacteria, and performing their compulsions doesn’t in the least solve the issue, which doesn’t require solving in the first place.

What is OCD?

OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is thus the manifestation of an obsession, or a compulsion, or both in a person. These obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming, distressing for the individual, and cause significant amounts of impairment in a person’s daily lives. They harm a person’s social lives, their ability to work.

Treatments for OCD

OCD can be treated with medication, such as antidepressants. Psychotherapy (such as CBT) can also be used to treat people with OCD as well. Depending on the severity levels of a case, professionals will design a therapy and recovery program based on that particular case: some cases involve only medication, some only psychotherapy, but some will involve both, as research has also shown that both approaches combined can achieve greater results.

Treatment is to help individuals with panic disorder to cope with their condition, and to find healthier ways to adapt to situations, instead of avoiding them out of fear.

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Jason Hew
Jason Hew is a graduate of HELP University in the Bachelor's Degree in Psychology. One of MY Psychology's founding members, he wrote screenplays and articles for MY Psychology ever since its inception. He currently works as the center manager and administrator for MY Psychology's Center. Still writes occasionally. Born in Petaling Jaya, lived in Shah Alam and Klang, moved to Penang, and moved back to Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur, he just went full circle, and he considers himself more so a citizen of the highway. He lives in Malaysia.

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