Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness. It’s made up of two parts: obsessions and compulsions. People may experience obsessions, compulsions, or both, and they cause a lot of distress.
Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges, or images that don’t go away. They cause a lot of anxiety. For example, someone might worry about making people they love sick by bringing in germs. Obsessions can focus on anything. These obsessive thoughts can be uncomfortable. Obsessions aren’t thoughts that a person would normally focus on, and they are not about a person’s character. They are symptoms of an illness.
Compulsions are actions meant to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions. Compulsions may be behaviours like washing, cleaning, or ordering things in a certain way. Other actions are not obvious to others. For example, some people may count things or repeat phrases in their mind. Some people describe it as feeling like they have to do something until it feels ‘right.’ It’s important to understand that compulsions are a way to cope with obsessions. Someone who experiences OCD may experience distress if they can’t complete the compulsion.
Do you need more help?
The OCD Centre Manitoba is a program of CMHA Manitoba and Winnipeg and can provide peer support, education, and support groups.
OCD can affect anyone. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes OCD, but there are likely many different factors involved, such as family history, biology, and life experiences.
Many people describe OCD as something that takes over their life, and this is not easy to deal with. But the good news is that OCD is treatable. It’s important to talk to a health professional.
A type of therapy called cognitive-behavioural therapy (or ‘CBT’) is shown to be effective for helping people with OCD. It teaches you how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours work together, and teaches skills like solving problems, managing stress, realistic thinking and relaxation.
Support groups can also be very helpful. They are a good place to share your experiences, learn from others, and connect with people who understand what you’re going through.
There are many self-help strategies to try at home. Small steps like eating well, exercising regularly, and practicing healthy sleep habits can really help.
Supporting a loved one who experiences OCD can be challenging. Many people feel like they have to follow along with a loved one’s compulsions. Some people who experience OCD avoid certain things or activities, and other people may feel like they have to do everyday things for a loved one.
You may have many different complicated feelings. You may feel upset when a loved one is experiencing distressing symptoms of OCD, but you may not see why a normal task could be a problem. Here are more tips to help you support someone you love:
- A loved one who experiences OCD usually understands that their experiences don’t make sense. Trying to argue with obsessions or compulsions doesn’t help anyone.
- Avoid ‘helping’ behaviours around OCD—for example, helping a loved one avoid things that cause anxiety. This can make it harder to practice healthy coping skills in the long run. Instead, it may be more helpful to focus on the feelings behind the behaviours.
- Signs of OCD can be more difficult to manage during times of stress—and even happy occasions can be stressful. Recognize that a loved one may need extra supports and try to plan ahead.
- Every small step towards managing OCD behaviour can take a lot of courage and hard work, so celebrate every victory.
- Set your own boundaries and seek extra support when you need it. Support groups for loved ones can be very helpful.