'Subtle' tell-tale signs and symptoms you may have OCD - how to get treatment

A person's hand arranging pencils and multi-coloured pins on a white background
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. It can affect anyone - men, women and children alike, with symptoms often appearing from as early as six years old, but typically beginning around puberty and early adulthood.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, about one in every 50 people will experience OCD at some point in their lives, equating to over one million individuals in the UK. The condition affects both genders fairly evenly.

The exact cause of OCD remains unknown, with different theories suggesting it could be linked to personal experiences or biological factors. However, no single theory can fully account for everyone's experience.

Contrary to popular belief, OCD involves more than just a desire for cleanliness and orderliness. Its manifestations can vary greatly, making it difficult to identify from an outsider's perspective.

If you have OCD, you're likely to experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. These can cause distress and significantly disrupt your life, but with appropriate treatment, they can be managed effectively, reports the Mirror.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a challenge to live with - and is much more than just being clean
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a challenge to live with - and is much more than just being clean -Credit:Getty

Symptoms of OCD:

Mental health charity MIND describes obsessions as unwelcome thoughts, feelings, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly intrude into your mind. They can feel stuck in your mind, causing you to worry about their meaning or why they won't go away.

A compulsion is a repetitive action or thought process that an individual feels compelled to perform in order to alleviate the discomfort caused by an obsessive thought. For instance, someone with an intense fear of their home being burgled might feel the need to repeatedly check all windows and doors are securely locked before they can leave their property.

Initially, compulsions may provide some relief. However, the more frequently a compulsion is performed, the stronger the urge becomes to repeat it, leading to a potentially harmful cycle of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

The link between the compulsion and the associated worry may not always be obvious, and the types of compulsions an individual performs can change over time.

Intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of OCD. Those affected by the condition often transform these thoughts into obsessions, resorting to compulsions as a coping mechanism.

Common compulsive behaviours exhibited by individuals with OCD include:

  • cleaning and hand washing

  • checking – such as checking doors are locked or that the gas is off

  • counting

  • ordering and arranging

  • hoarding

  • asking for reassurance

  • repeating words in their head

  • thinking "neutralising" thoughts to counter the obsessive thoughts

  • avoiding places and situations that could trigger obsessive thoughts

It's important to note that not all compulsive behaviours will be readily apparent to others.

Seeking help for OCD:

Individuals with OCD may hesitate to seek help due to feelings of shame or embarrassment. However, OCD is a health condition like any other, and there is no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed.

The NHS website lists two ways that help is available to help regain control of your life if OCD is taking over:

CBT often shows results quite quickly, but it can take up to 12 weeks before you notice the effects of treatment with SSRIs. The key point is that most people will eventually see benefits.

Talking therapy is credited by the NHS as helping 'quite quickly' with obsessions, compulsions and rituals.
Talking therapy is credited by the NHS as helping 'quite quickly' with obsessions, compulsions and rituals. -Credit:Getty Images

If these treatments do not provide relief, you may be offered an alternative SSRI, a combination of an SSRI and CBT or an antidepressant called clomipramine. Some individuals may be referred to a specialist mental health service for further treatment.

Living with OCD can be challenging. Besides seeking medical help, you might find it beneficial to reach out to a support group or other individuals with OCD for information and advice. MIND also emphasises that that self-care is very important for managing your mental health.

The following websites may be useful sources of support: OCD Action, OCD-UK, TOP UK and HealthUnlocked OCD support forum.