Ever thought of something you don't want to, or got a song you really don't like stuck in your head...? We all experience unwanted thoughts, some of which cause us distress, most of the time we manage this distress, and get past the thought. Other times we might become so distressed we feel unable to manage, and obsess over what we’ve just thought and this can lead to Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It can be a debilitating condition, it causes an individual to experience unwanted obsessional thoughts and compulsions, over and over again. Worldwide studies show that 1 in 100 people suffer from OCD at some point in their lives.
The thoughts experienced are unpleasant and disturbing, causing the sufferer extreme anxiety. To minimise the experience of this anxiety, individuals deal with their thoughts and feelings by carrying out compulsions, which are repetitive physical or mental actions. Compulsions can involve washing, checking, and repeating these actions until it feels comfortable, or may involve counting, or repeating certain phrases in the mind. Sufferers also tend to ask those close to them lots of questions to get reassurance that everything is fine. Fears of contamination a common form of OCD, where individuals obsess over contracting a disease/illness from touching objects, being in certain places, or near certain people. To avoid this perceived contamination they carry out compulsions, such as excessive hand washing. Aggression based obsessions are also a common occurrence, again obsessional thoughts are experienced, this time relating to unintentionally hurting others, without any desire to do so. The sufferer will again neutralise their thoughts and feelings by carrying out an action that reassures them, and reduces their anxiety. The problem with this kind of compulsive behaviour is that it only provides short term relief, and it also creates a powerful maintenance cycle, keeping the OCD going.
Over 20 years of research has shown a cognitive behavioural based therapy known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) to be the most effective treatment for OCD, and this treatment has been found to be superior to any other form of treatment or therapy. ERP, involves gradual exposure to the triggers that cause the obsessional thoughts and anxiety, without responding with the usual compulsion. Treatment can also involve the use of medications. Most individuals that receive these evidence based treatments experience a reduction or resolution of their symptoms.
This week it is OCD Awareness week across the UK. We as a practice feel it is important to talk mental health as we believe that mental and emotional health is closely linked to physical wellness. Let's talk about it!
Dr Kirren Schnack