What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious condition where a person experiences frequent, intrusive, unwanted obsessions (thoughts, impulses, images), followed by repetitive compulsions (actions, behaviors, rituals, mental rituals).
OCD used to be categorized as a type of anxiety disorder in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual — the book of psychiatric conditions commonly used in North America). As of the latest version of the DSM (released in 2013) OCD is now considered its own disorder. Even so, OCD is anxiety based.
Depending on the source, OCD affects between one and three per cent of the population (the average of two per cent is used here). That translates into just over 700,000 people in Canada, just over six million in the United States and roughly 140 million world wide. Approximately 50 per cent of all cases are considered severe.
The illness affects people of all ages, from young children to adults, both females and males, of every social and cultural background. OCD is so disabling that the World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked the disorder in the top 10 most disabling illnesses, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life. Though OCD can start at any age, generally the onset for males is adolescence while women generally experience onset in their early 20s.
Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted, repeated thoughts that are not controlled by the sufferer, which cause distress and, in many cases, cause a perception of a threat to the sufferer, a loved one or other people. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors, actions, rituals or mental rituals performed to alleviate the distress caused by obsessions and/or to minimize the threat perceived.
Many people with OCD have an overinflated sense of responsibility when it comes to preventing harm and are stricken with an over estimation of the perceived threat caused by obsessive thoughts. These factors can drive compulsive behaviors. Ultimately the sufferer can feel responsible for trying to prevent bad things from happening.
According to several studies, most, if not all, people experience intrusive thoughts from time to time. Most people are able to simply shrug off the thought as nonsense. OCD sufferers perceive the threat presented as real and feel something must be done to try and minimize the danger.
OCD can be ranked from mild to extreme. The disorder becomes a problem when it significantly impacts the sufferer’s life and everyday functioning.
It is not unheard of for sufferers to wait 10 to 15 years or more to receive a diagnoses of OCD. This is partly due to a lack of understanding of the disorder by the individual and health professionals. There is also the very real problem of feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment among sufferers.