Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere substantially with how a person functions. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, OCD affects 1 in 40 adults in Canada.
Obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts—unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly well up in a person's mind. The person experiences disturbing, frightening thoughts. For example: “My hands are contaminated; I need to wash them" or “I may have left the gas stove on." On one level, the sufferer knows these obsessive thoughts are irrational. But on another level, s/he fears they might be true. Trying to avoid such thoughts creates greater anxiety.
Compulsions are repetitive rituals such as hand-washing, counting, checking, hoarding, or arranging. An individual repeats these actions in attempts to reduce the anxiety brought on by obsessions. People with OCD feel they must perform these compulsive rituals or something bad will happen. Most people occasionally experience obsessive thoughts (“preoccupations") or compulsive behaviours. OCD occurs when the obsessions or compulsions are severe enough to cause serious distress, become time-consuming (compulsions occurring more than an hour each day), and interfere with daily functioning.
What treatments are available for OCD?
Both Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and a behavioural technique known as Exposure and Response Prevention have proven effective in treating OCD. Because symptoms of OCD worsen when the person shows signs of depression, a combination of antidepressant medication and CBT is sometimes used, achieving very good results.