Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The number of people suffering from mental illnesses is incalculable. However, based on the percentage of sufferers that actually seek medical treatment, doctors and researchers predict that the number of those affected by mental illnesses is in the hundreds of millions. There are several types of mental illnesses. These include common problems such as social anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental illness that affects approximately 3% of the American population. OCD may occur at any age, and affects both males and females equally. The onset of obsessive compulsive disorder is typically between the ages of 6 and 20.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a potentially debilitating disorder which is characterized by two features: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions consist of experiencing continual undesirable or disturbing thoughts. Individuals with OCD may believe that another person is stalking them or that someone is trying to harm them. Compulsive behavior associated with OCD may include persistent hand washing or constant re-checking to ensure that doors and windows are locked. For the most part, individuals that suffer from OCD are aware of their condition. However, because of extreme anxiety they are unable to control their impulses. Rituals preformed may even serve to lessen ordinary anxiety.

Risk Factors or Causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Researchers are unable to exactly pinpoint the root of mental illnesses, or the cause of obsessive compulsive disorder. Individuals who have lived through a traumatic experience may develop one of the many forms of mental illnesses. On the other hand, it appears that a large percentage of those suffering with mental illnesses have not undergone some life altering event. The mental condition was either present at birth, or developed gradually throughout the years. Risk factors that place a person at greater risk for developing OCD include genetics, environmental factors, and postpartum depression.

For the most part, obsessive compulsive disorder tends to run in families. However, researchers of mental health conditions cannot determine whether OCD is inherited, learned, or a combination of both. Parental influence is the greatest force in our lives. Regardless of whether we received the best or worst parenting, we are twice as likely to raise our children in a similar manner. Parents suffering from OCD may have an extreme fear of germs or demand perfection. Perfection might include the home being immaculate at all times. There is nothing wrong with having a clean home. However, individuals suffering from OCD may vacuum several times a day, uncontrollably and repeatedly clean bathrooms or kitchens, and spend the entire day making sure that everything in the home is perfectly aligned. Children raised in this sort of household are conveyed the message that everything must be perfect.

Environmental factors that may contribute to obsessive compulsive disorder include abuse, moving to a new location, illness, death of a love one, and family problems. Moreover, after giving birth some mothers begin to show signs of obsessive compulsive disorder. Because a new baby brings new responsibilities, the birth of a child may trigger postpartum depression. In more extreme cases, mothers overwhelmed by their new life may begin to act in an obsessive manner regarding their infant. Of course, the primary role of mothers is to protect their child. However, mothers with OCD experience unrealistic fears concerning their baby. These fears may include not permitting a father or grandparent to hold or care for the infant.

Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD begins gradually and worsens with age. There are different severities of this illness. Those with a milder form may have a ritual of re-checking doors and locks to ensure that they are fasten, however, they may not experience obsessive thoughts or other compulsive behavior. Then again, individuals suffering from a severe form of the illness may have rituals that disrupt normal daily function. For example, a person who has a habit of persistently double checking information may not be able to function properly in the workplace where deadlines and time management are essential.

Typical obsessions may include:

Fear of contamination with germs
Fear of developing a serious illness
Hoarding (inability to throw away items)
Need for everything to be perfect

Typical compulsions may include:

Avoiding social situations
Uncontrollable cleaning
Doubting and re-checking
Repeated behavior
Excessive body washing

It is difficult to identify with a person who has obsessive compulsive disorder. To outsiders, rituals may seem ridiculous, especially since they tend to monopolize so much time. For example, those overly-obsessive about germs may wash their hands until they are raw, or shower for hours at a time. Referring to a person with OCD as being “silly” or “crazy” will only complicate matters. Adults suffering from OCD recognize that their actions are purposeless, yet, they do not have the power to control their behavior.

Diagnosing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

There is no specific test available to diagnose OCD. Those suspected of the condition will have to undergo a complete evaluation by a mental health professional. These physicians will exam an individuals emotional past, current symptoms, risk factors, and family history. In addition, mental health professionals will use this information to rule out the presence of other common anxiety disorders. After an OCD diagnosis is confirm, the severity of the condition is determined. Doctors will consider four factors in determining whether a patient suffers from a mild or severe case. Do the symptoms cause misery? Do symptoms interfere with normal daily function? Do symptoms occur throughout the entire day, or only during specific times of the day? Does the person recognize that they have a problem?

Treatment Options

Antidepressants are the most effective treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. The purpose of prescription medication is to regulate serotonin levels in the brain. It is estimated that nearly 70% of sufferers respond positively to antidepressant medications. On average, its takes 10 to 12 weeks before effects of the drug are noticed. Some OCD sufferers reported a noticeable difference in as little as two weeks. The downside of antidepressants is the side effects. Moreover, approximately 80% of OCD sufferers experienced a relapse within months of stopping medication. In severe cases, a person may need to consult a mental health professional. Trained counselors will work directly with patients to try and pinpoint the root of obsessions and compulsion. The goal is to help patients control their anxiety, which in turn will lessen obsessive behavior.

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