Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common and chronic disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (referred to as “obsessions”) and behaviors (referred to as “compulsions”) that she feels the urge to repeat. The symptoms can interfere with all facets of life, including work, school and personal relationships.
It is hard to say how common OCD is, as the term is sometimes used colloquially and some people will never receive an official diagnosis. However, it is estimated that just over 1 in every 100 people will fit the diagnostic criteria for OCD per any given week.
To better understand this widespread disease, let’s break it down into the two words that make up the name of the disorder:
Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges or mental images that cause anxiety. Common manifestations of obsessions include fear of germs or contamination, extreme thoughts related to sex, religion, and/or harm, aggressive feelings towards others or the self, or a need to have things symmetrical or in a perfect order.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels an undeniable urge to do in response to an obsession. Common compulsions include excessive cleaning or ordering, repeatedly checking things or compulsive counting.
Whereas many people double check things or have their own rituals and habits, someone with OCD experiences these impulses to the extreme. In general, the person cannot control thoughts or behaviors, spends at least one hour a day on these activities, doesn’t feel pleasure from caving to compulsion, and experiences significant problems due to their disorder.
The obsessions and compulsions that people with OCD suffer are severe. It can keep them from leading normal and healthy lives, and they could lose some of what’s most important to them in life as a result.
It’s important to recognize just how debilitating OCD can be. For example, when discussed casually in modern society, people with the disorder get stereotyped as “neat-freaks.” You might have heard someone say they’re ‘a bit OCD’ to describe their like of cleanliness or tidiness. While this is a possible obsession, the harmful stigmatization of obsessive-compulsive disorder can prevent populations from taking the problems of others as well as their own seriously.