“We Are All A Bit OCD…Aren’t We?”

By Terry Streather | Mental Health

Feb 21

"Pop quiz hot shot..."

Remember the movie with a bomb on a bus, set to explode if it travels less than 50mph? And remember the desperate lengths our hero was prepared to go to save those poor innocent passengers (and everyone else)? Truly moving, gripping film making...no really.

And what about the one where the man wakes up everyday, reliving the same day over and over and over again? Again, super stuff. So lets try a thought experiment. Lets combine the movie "Speed" with "Groundhog Day". What do you get? (apart from life sappingly predictable cinema and a flood of complaints from animal rights campaigners).

We have a plot that looks something like this- Baddie making someone do something to prevent catastrophic consequences... all day...every day... rinse...repeat.

On a recent course I met a lady who told me another story. There was no baddie in this plot, at least not in the form of another person. For her, the baddie was an overpowering sense, that if she did not close the fridge door, then open and re-close it to make sure it was closed, 150 times, her dogs would die. Every time she went to the fridge.

Or another lady who told me she is always late leaving the house because she has to check and recheck that all of the plugs and sockets are switched off in the bedrooms and kitchen, and that all doors and windows are locked. On the surface you may think that sounds careful and responsible.

But for this lady it was far more. She then has to (note "has to") take pictures on her mobile phone of all the sockets in the "Off" position, and all the doors secured, which she then sends to her husband to make sure she's got it right. Every time she leaves the house.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) seems to be one of those conditions that society regards as "quirky". I mean, most of us would say we get frustrated when someone moves our stuff, or adjusts our office chair when we are not in. Everyone's "a bit OCD", aren't they?

I'm not too sure what that is, but I do know it's definitely not OCD.

So what is OCD?

OCD is actually the least common Anxiety Disorder, and is hugely disabling for those suffering, as well as those close to them. It can develop at any age, although usually in adolescence.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimate that around 1 million people in the UK will experience OCD, and that only 2% of people will develop the condition at some point in their lives.

An obsession is an intrusive thought that keeps coming into the persons mind, and they can't get rid of it. The most common examples are worrying about safety, being infected with germs, or wanting things arranged in a certain way, etc. They will often know the thoughts are inappropriate but can not get rid of them, which in itself is a source of further anxiety. No amount of telling them to snap out of it or stop being ridiculous is going to help.

Often, the only way a person can deal with the anxiety of the obsession, is to think or behave in a compulsive way that neutralises that anxiety, or prevents it from coming true. If I don't do this, something really bad is going to happen. So if a person obsesses about getting contaminated with germs, they might clean or scrub their hands repeatedly.

Repetitive counting, checking, hording or cleaning are the most common examples.

So what can be done?

OCD can be treated and there is evidence to suggest that Cognitive Behavioural Support (CBT) is the most effective approach in dealing with anxiety disorders. Of course there is no one size fits all and NICE guidlines detail other treatment options such as "Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)" and medication. Find out more about the guidelines here. 

We need to be a little more mindful of how we view and talk about this debilitating anxiety disorder.

So, a gentle challenge; the next time you go to say "Oh yes, I like everything in it's place, that's the OCD in me!" just think about the real lived experience of the stories I have shared.

For sufferers of OCD, it really is nothing to laugh about.

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About the Author

Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.