July 19, 2024

OCD Awareness Week: Expert Shares Her Advice in an Attempt to Smash The Myths About the Condition

Written by Emily Owens 

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER is all too often misunderstood and no two cases are ever the same, an expert has said. 

Lynn Crilly, an author and counsellor, also said the condition can strike at any age.

Speaking to shine a light on OCD Awareness Week, Lynn said: “OCD is a mental disorder and like all mental disorders not only has it a huge stigma attached, it can also be fearfully misunderstood as it cannot be seen by the visual eye, so therefore it can be harder to diagnose.

“For the sufferer, who will have no doubt thought they were losing their mind up until diagnosis, it will be very difficult to come to terms with.”

“They’ll have known for some time that something could potentially be wrong, but their brain can trick them into thinking all is normal, so the diagnosis of a legitimate mental illness is often a shock.  It typically first starts to significantly interfere with a person’s life during early adulthood, although problems can develop at any age.”

“No two cases are ever the same, they are all unique to the individual sufferer, below is a summary of the familiar ‘facts’ which are often quoted in relation to obsessive compulsive disorder.”

 

OCD FACTBOX:

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a mental health disorder that causes people to suffer from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. OCD obsessions are reoccurring and unwanted thoughts, urges or images which can cause distress and anxiety. Examples of symptoms include needing things orderly or symmetrical, doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty and fear of contamination. OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviours you feel you must perform to reduce anxiety related to obsessions or to prevent something bad from happening. Examples of this are persistently cleaning, checking and counting.

 

How many people are impacted by it?

OCD affects approximately 70 million individuals worldwide. Although it can occur in anyone at any age, the general age for onset is between 8-12 years, and late teen-early adulthood years. A US study indicated that women are 1.6 times more likely to be affected than men. This is shown by the fact 1.8% of women have the condition, compared to 0.5% of men. However, it is a hard disorder to diagnose, a German study showed a 70% misdiagnosis rate in 2010. This is because symptoms show similarity to those of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, OCPD and other mental health disorders. It can also just go unrecognised, with sufferers thought to sometimes spend 10 years untreated.

 

How can it be treated?

There are two main treatments for OCD. The first is ‘talking therapy’, which is talking about your obsessions and compulsions without actually acting on them. Confronting fears helps to calm anxiety and therefore overcome the disorder. People with fairly mild OCD will require about 8-20 sessions of this treatment, whereas more severe cases will need a longer course. The second treatment is medication, typically an antidepressant medicine which can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain. This is used when talking therapy does not help, or if the condition is severe. To decide diagnosis and treatment, a GP or the NHS should be contacted.

 

Are any famous people suffering?

A celebrity who has been open about their OCD journey is retired footballer David Beckham. He spoke to the Daily Mail about his compulsions to have everything perfectly organised in a straight line or in pairs and revealed his immaculately sorted wardrobe. He also spoke about how his condition led him to spend hours cleaning and organising his home while his family were in bed. He described the disorder as ‘tiring’. Other examples of famous people who suffer with OCD are presenter Howie Mandel, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and actress Cameron Diaz.

 

Here Lynn shares the myths and truths surrounding OCD:

Myth: Everyone is a bit ‘OCD’

Truth: There are two parts to OCD:

Obsessions: The intrusive thoughts, pictures, or urges.

Compulsions: These are the actions and behaviours in which people might engage in to help release the anxiety caused by the obsessions.

There is a distinct difference between compulsive inclinations and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. The main word being obsessive. If someone has OCD, their lives will most likely be consumed with obsessive thoughts, which can interfere with work, school, or a person’s social life. OCD has certain criteria required to make a diagnosis, that criteria will be different to someone who is, say, thorough about certain aspects of their life.

Myth: OCD is just about cleaning, handwashing. 

Truth: OCD manifests itself differently in different people, yes, there are a proportion of OCD sufferers who have a fear of germs which can result in hand washing or extreme cleaning compulsions. However, obsessions can fixate on almost anything from fear of contamination and illness, worrying about harming others, preoccupation with numbers and patterns, fear of their own death or a loved one’s death. And, in the same way, so can the compulsions that accompany them.

Myth: Sufferers of OCD do not understand their behaviours are irrational

Truth: Most sufferers do know that the relationship between their obsessions and compulsions are irrational and potentially harmful to themselves and others around them. However, It is hard for them to know when their brain is ‘lying’ to them, whilst they experiencing strong urges to obey its irrational commands.

Myth: Stress causes OCD

Truth: Whilst stress can exacerbate the symptoms in sufferers, OCD is a mental illness which can incite uncontrollable fears and anxiety which will most likely occur with or without stressful situations.

Myth: OCD is rare in children

Truth: Childhood-onset OCD is quite common, occurring in approximately 1% of all children. Furthermore, recent research indicates that approximately half of all adults with OCD experience symptoms of the disorder during their childhood.

Myth: People with OCD worry about things non-sufferers don’t

Truth: Everybody gets thoughts and worries about a loved one being harmed, or themselves becoming ill, or what would happen if……? How many times have you personally touched wood for good luck, or saluted a magpie? Whilst you may do this occasionally, with the thought passing through as soon as the action is finished, someone with OCD will get trapped in a cycle, believing they have not performed the action correctly and have failed to warn off any bad things happening. Whilst most of us have the same worries as a sufferer, non-sufferers are less sensitive to them and, in comparison, can generally quite easily brush them off.

Myth: OCD is not treatable

Truth: This is not the case; I cannot stress enough that long-lasting recovery is achievable. Many sufferers of OCD do not seek treatment because they are embarrassed, or they think there is nothing that can be done to help them. Many different forms of therapy have been successful in relieving the symptoms of OCD and helping sufferers move onto a positive recovery path.

 

An Unwanted Intruder

By Samantha Crilly

I lay there asleep, in peace on my bed

Avoiding waking to confront the demon in my head

Losing myself in my beautiful dreams

Feeling free, well, for what it seems

I wake and feel the constraint around me

Face to face with the monster that has found me

Reeling out a list of rules I should follow

Each with a meaning that seems so hollow

But as I do one, it makes me do more

If I ever missed one, it would yell as it saw

I obeyed every rule, scared of upsetting it

It knew it could own me, and I was letting it

Drained and tired from doing what it desired

I was the personal slave it had hired

So consumed in the rituals I had to do

I was losing everything else that once was true

My freedom was jailed

Imprisoned in a hell I hailed

Watching my loved ones fall apart beside me

It was time I set light to the fire inside me

This presence was my enemy, not my friend

And a relationship that I needed to end

I burnt my bridges and cut my ties

I ripped it apart and said my Goodbyes

I have the freedom now to live my life and be free

But over my shoulder, it’s always watching me

Its shadow lingers at a distance

And whispers to me in its persistence

But I stand strong, you will stay a ghost, and I will walk past your existence.

 

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a mental health disorder that causes people to suffer from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. OCD obsessions are reoccurring and unwanted thoughts, urges or images which can cause distress and anxiety. Examples of symptoms include needing things orderly or symmetrical, doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty and fear of contamination. OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviours you feel you must perform to reduce anxiety related to obsessions or to prevent something bad from happening. Examples of this are persistently cleaning, checking and counting.

 

How many people are impacted by it?

OCD affects approximately 70 million individuals worldwide. Although it can occur in anyone at any age, the general age for onset is between 8-12 years, and late teen-early adulthood years. A US study indicated that women are 1.6 times more likely to be affected than men. This is shown by the fact 1.8% of women have the condition, compared to 0.5% of men. However, it is a hard disorder to diagnose, a German study showed a 70% misdiagnosis rate in 2010. This is because symptoms show similarity to those of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, OCPD and other mental health disorders. It can also just go unrecognised, with sufferers thought to sometimes spend 10 years untreated.

 

How can it be treated?

There are two main treatments for OCD. The first is ‘talking therapy’, which is talking about your obsessions and compulsions without actually acting on them. Confronting fears helps to calm anxiety and therefore overcome the disorder. People with fairly mild OCD will require about 8-20 sessions of this treatment, whereas more severe cases will need a longer course. The second treatment is medication, typically an antidepressant medicine which can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain. This is used when talking therapy does not help, or if the condition is severe. To decide diagnosis and treatment, a GP or the NHS should be contacted.

 

Are any famous people suffering?

A celebrity who has been open about their OCD journey is retired footballer David Beckham. He spoke to the Daily Mail about his compulsions to have everything perfectly organised in a straight line or in pairs and revealed his immaculately sorted wardrobe. He also spoke about how his condition led him to spend hours cleaning and organising his home while his family were in bed. He described the disorder as ‘tiring’. Other examples of famous people who suffer with OCD are presenter Howie Mandel, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and actress Cameron Diaz.