The term “OCD” is used far too flippantly these days. We all have our quirks, we like things “just so”, we habitually do things in certain ways or follow certain routines and then joke about how “OCD” we are – but for people suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, it’s no laughing matter.
According to the experts at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), OCD occurs when people’s “lives become dominated by thoughts and behaviour they know make no sense, but are powerless to stop”. They elaborate further: “People with OCD are so preoccupied with a thought, or so compelled to check and recheck, that this interferes with their normal routine of the day. Obsessions are unwanted, recurrent and unpleasant thoughts that cause anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive, ritualistic behaviours that the person feels driven to perform to decrease anxiety. The obsessive thoughts or acts of performing compulsive rituals often takes up many hours of each day.” So, for example, some common obsessions include fear of germs, contamination or illness, fear of causing harm to another, and fear of making a mistake. The compulsion then, is the strategy by which the sufferer tries to relieve their anxiety: repetitive hand-washing or repeatedly checking if doors are locked, for example, or ritualistic counting, arranging or hoarding behaviour.
It is not known exactly what causes OCD, although research is currently looking at biological factors which could contribute to the development of the condition, as well as comorbidity with other mental health problems (many patients with OCD also suffer from depression). What is known, says SADAG, is that recent studies indicate that up to three percent of the population have experienced an obsessive-compulsive disorder at some point in their lives. “Symptoms tend to begin during the teen years or early adulthood… Men and women are equally likely to suffer from OCD, although men tend to show symptoms at an earlier age. Cleaning compulsions are more common in women, while men are more likely to be checkers.”
Fortunately, OCD can be treated and in many cases the distressing symptoms can be brought under control or eliminated entirely. SADAG advises, “There are different treatment options available for OCD, including medication, behaviour therapy or a combination of both. Research has shown that both medication and behaviour therapy are very effective in treating OCD. The optimal combination requires both medication and behaviour therapy.” The primary drugs used to treat the condition are known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and are particularly useful in cases where depression is a feature too and when it comes to relieving anxiety.
Breaking the cycle of OCD can be a truly liberating experience for sufferers. Free of the shackles of their irrational anxieties, they can begin to live life to the full.
Note: Prescribed medications for OCD and other mental illnesses can be obtained from the dispensary at Clicks pharmacies. If you have any questions about your medication the Clicks pharmacist on duty will be happy to assist you.