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... about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Research suggests that 1 in 40 people will develop OCD during their life and that 1.2% of people have OCD in any 12 months. Males and females develop OCD at similar rates, and it affects all age groups. OCD usually begins in adolescence but can start in early childhood or adulthood. It often starts gradually but can sometimes begin suddenly. Symptoms vary in severity and may be triggered by stressful events. People can't always remember exactly when OCD began, but they usually recall when symptoms started disrupting their lives.

The causes of OCD are unknown. Some researchers suggest that certain "thinking errors" about harm characterise OCD, such as equating thinking about an action with doing it, believing one should control their thoughts, or feeling responsible for preventing harm. Others believe that abnormal brain chemistry involving serotonin, a brain chemical, plays a role in OCD. People with OCD often have unusual serotonin levels, and medications that change serotonin levels can relieve symptoms. However, it is unclear if serotonin is a key factor in OCD.  There is also evidence that OCD runs in families. It's difficult to determine how much of this is due to genetics and how much is learned behaviour.

Many people want to know why they have OCD. There are many theories, but no single satisfactory explanation. It's likely a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Despite the lack of a clear cause, effective treatments are available.

Symptoms of OCD include unwanted or upsetting thoughts about harm, contamination, sex, religious themes, or health. Rituals might involve excessive washing, re-checking, praying, repeating actions, or having special thoughts to counteract negative ones. Certain situations, places, or objects can trigger these thoughts and urges. Many people with OCD avoid situations that provoke these fears and urges.

Learning more about your OCD symptoms can improve your treatment outcome. OCD involves habits of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Certain situations trigger obsessive thinking and feelings of extreme discomfort, leading to compulsive rituals to reduce distress. These habits are unpleasant and hard to break.  Often it is the thing that a person will find most disturbing that OCD fixates on – for example, a person who wants to become a teacher or parent develops upsetting thoughts relating to children.

Two types of associations are important in OCD. The first is the link between certain objects, thoughts, or situations and difficult feelings that likely include anxiety and shame, disgust, and fear amongst others. The second is the link between performing rituals and reducing distress. Therapy aims to break these associations.

Many people with OCD also experience depression due to the disruption caused by OCD symptoms. Depression can manifest as prolonged sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, lack of motivation, sleep issues, appetite changes, loss of interest in activities, and even suicidal thoughts.

Along with reducing OCD symptoms, a good treatment plan aims to help reduce feelings of depression. You can learn skills to overcome these feelings and break free of the OCD cycle.

Asking for help and support is not what OCD wants you to do.  So, to begin breaking free take the first step and pick up the phone or send an email.

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