The Problem :

Are there complaints of unwanted thoughts that keep coming back even though one tries to stop them? Is there, for example, the thought that the lights in the house could still be on, when they have been checked several times before leaving the house?

Are there repeated acts – acts that everyone feels are unnecessary. For example, washing the hands repeatedly because there is the feeling that there are germs on them? Are there ‘doubts’ and superstitions about things happening in day to day life?

These unwanted and repeated thoughts are called Obsessions and the urge to repeat certain acts is called a Compulsion. Everyone has them now and then. But, if these begin to interfere with daily living so that each day seems to be a struggle, it may be because of a disorder known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which requires treatment.

The Signs :

In addition, the person may show…

  • over concern with cleanliness
  • over concern with routine
  • lessened interest in social activities
  • uncertainty about own judgement
  • a tendency to get too upset about minor things
  • over concern with detail
  • a tendency to be easily tired

Of course, anyone could have some of these traits, without having an obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Causes :

Sometimes it must be difficult to understand why these symptoms simply just can’t be controlled. It is important to understand that these problems are not the person’s own fault. Something in the biological make up, certain physical factors that are unseen but that a person is born with, can cause the tendency to develop an obsessive compulsive disorder. The environment, life experiences, and of course, stress, also contributes to the problem. People do not cause this disease – not the sufferer himself, nor his family members. However, certain beliefs, certain reactions, can have a contributing effect.

When to seek help :

It would be best to consult the psychiatrist if you find that…

  • there are complaints or signs of having repeated, unwanted thoughts which interfere with daily functioning
  • there are repeated acts that everyone feels are unnecessary and great anxiety if an attempt is made to stop these actions
  • day to day activities take a long time, because they have become complicated with rituals and patterns of behavior
  • there are constant doubts about simple events

Treatment of OCD :

Many people think of OCD, not as a mental disorder, but as a sort of superstition. This is not so. No superstition by itself, can disrupt daily functioning to the extent that OCD does. Symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder sometimes become more, sometimes less, and sometimes they go away altogether on their own. Usually, they come up or become intensified if the person is under some stress. This problem is difficult for the sufferer or the family members to handle alone because of the intense anxiety it causes the person to try and stop the obsessions and compulsions.

What the mental health specialist (psychiatrist or psychologist) can do to help with the problem —

Medication – When the problem is acute, the psychiatrist may consider starting a course of medicines to control the anxiety or depression or lessen the illness. These drugs must however always be taken or continued under the psychiatrist’s supervision. Sometimes there is depression along with the other OCD symptoms, and this may have to be treated as well.

Behavior Therapy – The most successful therapy with obsessive compulsive disorder, this involves starting a programme of training the person in ‘thought stopping’ methods and combining relaxation methods to lessen anxiety while preventing the repeating patterns of behavior that trouble the person.

Family Therapy – Along with other measures, the psychiatrist will counsel the family, teaching them to support the person with getting rid of the problem. He will also help in improving family interaction. The family, the psychiatrist, and the person suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, can then work as a team. In addition, the psychiatrist will provide guidelines to the family on how to cope with the problem.

Some Words of Advice:

What most family members of a person affected with OCD do is to coorperate with the person’s wishes to keep the peace. When the rituals and patterns carry on day after day, it becomes easier to give in than to resist and try to talk the person out of it. This only makes the symptoms worse. On the other hand, ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn’t exist is not going to help either. Families should get help and begin a programme for changing the person’s behaviour. The home environment should be supportive and reassuring. The earlier the disorder is treated, more the chances of success.