Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which the individual struggles with extreme obsessions and compulsions that interfere with his or her everyday life. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, OCD affects approximately one in every 200 children and adolescents. This is more severe than simply being a perfectionist or having superstitious rituals, as OCD significantly inhibits an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.
Obsessions and compulsions
Obsessions, in this context, are typically thoughts, whereas compulsions are behaviors. These obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts or urges that cause anxiety, which the compulsions, that is, excessive and repetitive behaviors, are then performed to reduce. Adults with OCD are aware that their obsessions are irrational or inappropriate, which separates these individuals from those struggling with psychosis. However, children and adolescents with OCD are sometimes unable to distinguish between rational and irrational thoughts. Regardless of age, individuals dealing with OCD are unable to control these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
Many obsessions and compulsions commonly go hand-in-hand. For instance, the obsession over contamination and germs is linked to the compulsion of washing. Likewise, individuals who obsess over doubts, for instance, whether the door was locked or oven turned off, typically turn to compulsive checking. Other common obsessions include fear of disastrous consequences, violence and need for order. Compulsions include checking, washing or organizing, but can also include mental acts such as counting, repeating or praying.
Compulsive rituals are implemented by the individual to ease the intense anxiety that is generated by irrational obsessions. These rituals can be completely unrelated to the obsession. For example, a person suffering from OCD may feel the compulsion to turn a light switch on and off a certain amount of times to ease the obsession that, if this is not performed, a close family member or friend will die. These actions are time-consuming and extremely difficult to resist, only strengthening obsessive thoughts.
Help for OCD
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used for treatment of OCD, as it helps individuals find alternative behaviors to their compulsions. Therapists help children struggling with OCD personify their obsessions, so as to have something more tangible to fight against rather than general thoughts and behaviors. CBT explores changing behaviors and thinking patterns to empower the individual and can be extremely effective in treating those with OCD.
The exact causes of OCD are unknown although genetic and environmental factors both play a role in its development. Irregularities in the sections of the brain that manage regulation and control have also been found in individuals with OCD. For this reason, therapy is not always effective on its own at treating this anxiety disorder. There are various FDA-approved medications often prescribed in concurrence with therapy in the treatment of OCD, including antidepressants, specifically those which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These reduce but do not eliminate symptoms and require careful monitoring, particularly among adolescents and teenagers. It can take up to 12 weeks to determine whether these medications are going to be effective.
OCD can lead to problems in school for adolescents and teenagers. These problems include difficulty concentrating, problem behaviors, social isolation and low self-esteem. Though OCD typically develops in adolescence, many children do not seek professional help out of shame or embarrassment. For this reason, communication is vital. It is encouraged that loved ones listen to the individual who is struggling, be supportive without enabling compulsions and encourage the individual to seek professional help.
If you know someone who is struggling with OCD, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in the treatment of adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer