Definition of OCD
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behaviour. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be defined as unwanted and intrusive thoughts that a person cannot get out of their heads (obsessions) leading them to perform ritualistic behaviour and routines to try and ease their anxiety, for example, hand washing, checking, avoiding. The obsessions and compulsions involved in OCD can be time consuming and get in the way of daily functioning and a person's values.
Prevalence of OCD
According to The World Health Organisation, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is considered to be 1 of the 10 most debilitating illnesses in terms of loss of quality of life and income. OCD is a mental health condition that affects 1-3% of the population in both eastern and western countries (Solomon et al, 2011)
Characteristics of OCD
OCD is characterised by intrusive, unwanted and distressing thoughts or images that one has in their mind playing over and over again causing high levels of dread, fear and anxiety. These thoughts and images feel so real that sufferers believe that they are true and will cause real harm to themselves or loved ones at a certain place, situation or time. The thoughts/images scream out danger and feel uncontrollable and overwhelming. This prompts sufferers to take action in desperation to try and reduce this gut wrenching anxiety that they feel. There is a sudden urge to react, respond, protect oneself or others, to do something to relieve the feeling of anxiety and to stop this thought or image that one feels may come true.
What is OCD
This is where OCD compulsions come into play, a ritual that is performed to reduce the anxiety from the thought or image that one has in their head. Compulsions can take many forms, e.g. handwashing, repeating, checking, mental neutralising, and waiting for that 'just right moment'. Compulsions are performed until the OCD sufferer feels 'safe' and convinced that their thought or image will not come true and cause harm at that given point in time. People who are suffering from severe OCD can spend hours and hours performing rituals to reduce anxiety.
Anxiety is our brain's warning system. When we experience anxiety it feels like we are in danger. However, for those suffering with OCD, the brain's warning system is faulty and is screaming out danger when in reality there is no threat present. Individuals suffering with OCD are aware that their fears are irrational and do not make sense but are conflicted by the heightened fear and danger that they feel making it all seem so real.
The majority of our population have experienced intrusive thoughts. However, clinical obsessions differ from 'normal obsessions' as they are more intense, frequent, longer lasting and cause more distress than normal intrusions (Rachman & De Silva, 1978).