The human mind is designed for agility. Thoughts can wander in and wander out again with amazing speed, and if a person thinks hard enough, unwanted images and messages could be absent from the mind altogether. This complex machine, build for speed, is easy for the average person to operate with precision.
But what happens when thoughts that come in just will not go out again? And what happens when the person loses control over the ability to block unpleasant thoughts or images? The result could be obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is a common, and very serious, mental health disorder that could come with consequences — unless people get the help they need in a treatment program.
OCD Signs and Symptoms
People who have OCD have two very different mental health symptoms that intermingle and cause distress.
The first issue involves obsessions. These are repeated thoughts or images that intrude the person’s mind on a regular basis. They might involve safety, aggression, contamination, religion, sex, or violence. The person with OCD does not want to have these thoughts. And the person with OCD may not need to see any trigger in order to experience these thoughts. They come unbidden, on a regular basis.
The second issue involves compulsions. These are repetitive behaviors the person does in response to OCD obsessions. Compulsions might involve counting, cleaning, checking, or arranging. The person with OCD may know, on an intellectual level, that the behaviors are outside of the norm and unlikely to help with the obsessive thought. But the person might also feel compelled to do these acts, despite how strange they might seem.
The National Institute of Mental Health acknowledges that everyone has obsessions and compulsions from time to time. Some people worry about foodborne illness, for example, so they keep a clean kitchen. Others fear loss of paperwork, so they keep office files in order. These are all natural, healthy responses. People with OCD are a little different. These people:
While this set of symptoms might seem rare and/or unusual, OCD is remarkably common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2.2 million Americans have OCD. Men and women are impacted at equal rates.
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Help Is Possible
There is good news, when it comes to OCD. The most effective treatments for the disorder, per the International OCD Foundation, involve a combination of therapy and medication.
The therapy could take many forms, but one form called exposure and response prevention could be particularly helpful. Here, people with OCD work with a counselor and learn to tolerate the thoughts, images, and situations that are the targets of the obsession. They do not need to learn to like these intrusions. But they do need to learn to accept that they appear and that nothing needs be done with them. That could stop the need to deal with them through compulsive behavior, and it could allow for a more healthy way of life.
Medications can be used to balance brain chemistry signals gone awry through drug use, compulsions, or both. The medications might be used only during the early part of the recovery process, or the person with OCD might need to stay with medications for the rest of life in order to see real relief. Either is possible.
Heading into therapy for OCD is not a sign of weakness. It is a form of self-healing and self-control. Choosing to get better could be the best thing anyone could do in order to bring about long-term health, wealth, and healing — even with OCD.