“When I was 21 and I finally got diagnosed, I thought that it might have been schizophrenia, because that's the only illness that I had seen on TV. I didn’t have any idea that it might be something else.”
Have you ever gone out and then had the uneasy feeling that you left the iron on or the door unlocked? Most of us have had similar thoughts sometime in our lives. It’s not unusual to have these worries from time to time, or to do things to feel like our life is in control.
But what if you feel driven to clean or check on the same things again and again, to feel free from germs or safe from harm? If these actions are taking up a lot of time and making life more difficult, it may be a sign that you have an obsessive-compulsive or related disorder.
Obsessions are thoughts, urges or images that keep popping up in your head. They are often unwanted and uncontrollable. Obsessions may include constant worries about germs or contamination, losing or misplacing things, harm coming to oneself or others, and taboo thoughts about sex or religion. While part of you knows they don’t make sense, the obsessions also feel real and true. These obsessions often compel you to repeat certain behaviours to reduce your feelings of distress.
Compulsions could be things like excessive hand washing or cleaning, repeated checking, arranging objects symmetrically, hoarding things, or body-focused repetitive behaviours like hair pulling or skin picking. Obsessions and compulsions often occur together.
To find out if you have this diagnosis, you will need to have an assessment with a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.
We have some information on seeking professional support that can help you get started. Or you can take a look at the resources below.
Taking action for change
Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are treatable and recovery is possible
Reaching out to family and friends can make your experience less isolating
If your family is your major support group, it may be helpful to sit down together and talk about how each person understands or experiences your OCD. When families work as a team to support the member with OCD, they can reduce stress within the family, increase coping skills, help each other find new ways to communicate, and spot signs of relapse.
Talking with a GP can be very effective
A GP may be able to refer you to a mental health professional who specialises in obsessive-compulsive disorders. If you don't have a regular GP, you can use the National Health Services Directory to find one near you. The psychological treatment, or “talking therapy”, is considered to be most effective. Medications similar to those used to treat depression can also be prescribed for severe OCDs, and can also make the feelings associated with OCDs more manageable. (Source)
General self-care is an important part of recovery
Some people find that doing enjoyable activities every day, keeping a journal, or practising relaxation techniques are helpful. Improving the quality of your sleep and diet, exercising regularly, and connecting with supportive people are some of the steps you can take towards positive change.
Helping someone with this disorder
When offering support to a person with an obsessive-compulsive or related disorder, telling them that it is treatable and encouraging them to seek professional help is a good start. As a family member, friend or colleague, learn as much as you can about the disorder.
Invite the person to talk about their experience so you can learn how it affects them. It’s important to try to understand that while they are aware of their behaviour, they have limited control over it. Encourage their self-care through diet, exercise, and making time to relax. Help them to plan at least one enjoyable activity each day.
Sometimes people with OCD attempt to include others around them in their rituals and compulsive behaviours. Be aware of the fine line that exists here between helping them and making the problem worse. In helping someone with an obsessive-compulsive or related disorder, it is important to look after yourself as well. Find out more about caring for someone with a mental health condition on our carers page.
At school, I would be in a classroom and count the amount of tiles on the floor or maybe just zone out and think about how I mistreated someone in the morning. Obsessive compulsive disorder, for me, was more about not being in the moment. I was thinking over and over about really minuscule things that someone else would just disregard.
I find it really frustrating when people say, "I'm so OCD, my room's always clean". OCD is a debilitating illness, and it can ruin lives. It's not just a personality trait.
I reached a crisis point, where I thought, yeah, life is really going to take a big turn unless I try and figure out what's happening. I really wanted to talk about all my symptoms over the years, but I just tried my best not to. I eventually went and saw someone, and that's when I started learning all I could about OCD.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).