What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes people to experience unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or to repeat certain behaviors (compulsions) over and over again. Most people with OCD know that their obsessions and compulsions make no sense but find it difficult to ignore or stop them.

What are Obsessions?

Obsessions are ideas, images or impulses that run through a person’s mind over and over again. A person with OCD often finds these obsessions disturbing but finds it difficult to control them.

What are Compulsions?

Because obsessive thoughts often make people who have OCD feel nervous and afraid, they tend to try to get rid of these feelings by performing certain behaviors according to “rules” that they make up for themselves. These behaviors are called Compulsions. (Compulsive behaviors are sometimes also called ‘rituals’.) For example, a person who has OCD may have obsessive thoughts about germs. Because of these thoughts, the person may wash his or her hands repeatedly after using a public toilet. Performing these behaviors usually only makes the nervous feelings go away for a short time. When the fear and nervousness return, the person who has OCD repeats the routine all over again.

What are some common Obsessions?

  • Fear of dirt or germs
  • Disgust with bodily waste or fluids
  • Concern with order, symmetry (balance) and exactness
  • Worry that a task has not been done correctly, such as locking the door, turning off the oven, etc, even when the person knows this is not true
  • Fear of thinking evil or sinful thoughts
  • Thinking about certain sounds, images, words or numbers all the time
  • Need for constant reassurance
  • Fear of harming a family member or friend

What are some common Compulsions?

  • Cleaning and grooming, such as washing hands, showering or brushing teeth over and over again
  • Checking drawers, door locks and appliances to be sure they are shut, locked or turned off
  • Repeating, such as going in and out of a door, sitting down and getting up from a chair, or touching certain objects several times
  • Ordering and arranging items in certain ways
  • Counting over and over to a certain number
  • Saving newspapers, mail or containers when they are no longer needed
  • Seeking constant reassurance and approval

Who is affected by OCD?

OCD affects 2 – 3% of the population (more than 500,000 Australians) and usually begins in late childhood or early adolescence. OCD affects men and women equally.

People who have OCD often have other kinds of anxiety too, and also may experience depression, or other disorders such as an eating disorder or other compulsive problems.