What's it like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (or OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects many more people than you may think. OCD is divided into two parts:

  • Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, worries or images that appear in a person's mind. Often they can make the person feel very anxious. An example would be a fear that something very bad could happen if things are not done just right (e.g. things put in order or cleaned in a certain way).
  • Compulsions are repetitive activities that a person with OCD does to reduce the anxiety they have (caused by the obsession). An example would be repeatedly checking a door is locked a certain number of times or washing their hands so many times in a certain way.

What is it like to live with OCD?

Many people experience minor obsessions such as worrying if they have locked the door, but usually these thoughts don't significantly interfere with daily life, or are short-lived.

In people with OCD, their obsessions and compulsions typically have a big impact on how they live their lives. Repeating compulsions can take up a lot of time and can cause social isolation, making hard to be with people or go out. It can have an impact on relationships and leave the sufferer feeling ashamed or lonely.

Often a person with OCD tries to hide the problem from others, and this in turn makes them feel more isolated. Living with ongoing anxiety can affect a person's physical health too.

How can we treat OCD?

The best way to get help is to visit your GP. They can then point you in the right direction.

The main treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a talking treatment that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour.

Sometimes a technique called exposure and response prevention (ERP) can be used. This is a type of CBT that works by helping the patient confront their obsessions and resist the urge to carry the compulsions out.

Some people also benefit from medications that can help. Certain antidepressants are licensed for use in OCD. Other medications to help with anxiety symptoms can also be used, including Beta blockers (which help with the physical symptoms of anxiety) and occasionally tranquilizers can be used to help with severe anxiety in the very short term.

Please see your doctor to discuss the option of medications further because they are not useful in all cases.

Where to get help

Your GP or doctor is an excellent first port of call as they can tell you the services that are available in your local area. There are also some good online resources for further information, such as the charities Mind, OCD UK and OCD Action.