What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Most people have obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors at some point in their lives, but that does not mean that we all have “some OCD.” For a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder to be made, this cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes so extreme that it consumes a lot of time and gets in the way of important activities that the person values.
Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that may be extreme or disturbing. The obsessions are accompanied by uncomfortable feelings, such as fear, disgust, doubt, or a feeling that things must be “just right.” These obsessions occur over and over again and feel outside of the person’s control.
Compulsions are excessive, repetitive behaviors or “mental acts” (e.g., thought suppression, counting, praying, etc.) that a person uses to try to neutralize or make their obsessions or distress go away. People with OCD usually recognize that using compulsions is only a temporary solution, but without any other way to cope, they rely on compulsions as a brief escape.
How is OCD Treated?
The most effective treatments for OCD are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication. More specifically, the most effective and evidence-based treatments are a type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and/or a class of medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
ERP therapy involves working with a licensed mental health professional (such as a psychologist, social worker, or mental health counselor) to face your fears through “exposure” without doing your compulsions — the “response prevention.” ERP is typically done in an outpatient setting, which means you visit your therapist’s office at a scheduled time weekly or a few times a week. In collaboration with your therapist, you will use structured exercises and tasks, as well as homework assignments to help you along the way.
Medication may also be used, either by itself or along with ERP treatment. Most of the SSRI medicines that help OCD are known as antidepressants. Only a licensed medical professional (such as a psychiatrist or physician) can prescribe medication, and they would ideally work together with the therapist to develop a treatment plan.
How Many People Does OCD Affect?
- Approximately 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 200 kids and teens have OCD. This means that over 3 million adults and half a million kids and teens currently have OCD.
- OCD can start at any age, though there are generally two age ranges when OCD first appears. The first is between ages 10 – 12 years, and the second is between the late teens and early adulthood.
- OCD equally affects men, women, and children of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.
- It takes an average of 14 – 17 years from the time OCD first appears for people to receive appropriate treatment.
- Once connected to appropriate treatment, most people with OCD (around 70%) will benefit from therapy, medicine, or a combination of the two.