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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a form of anxiety disorder. Sufferers may experience obsessions which are uncontrolled intrusive thoughts (unwanted, repulsive to the individual) and related compulsions. Compulsions generally develop to deal with the anxiety associated with the obsessive thought, and may include excessive cleanliness and washing, repetitive counting or preoccupations with specific numbers. Other compulsions could include preoccupation with health/illness, with the arrangement of objects, hoarding, skin picking, hair pulling or other body-focused repetitive behaviours.
Obsessive compulsive symptoms may also occur as manifestations of other disorders such as depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia.
In severe cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the condition is debilitating and can cause similar impairments to those seen in psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.
Typically the person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder knows that the obsession is irrational, but cannot resist the compulsive behaviour. Before completing the compulsive behaviour, the sufferer may feel anxious, apprehensive and incomplete; emotional states that are relieved temporarily by enacting the compulsive behaviour. Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours can be exhausting and have a serious impact on quality of life, education, employment and relationships.
The central feature of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is experiencing obsessive thoughts, and then repetitive actions that do not have a rational goal. The symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may vary widely. Common forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involve repetitive actions and counting (doing things a certain number of times) and repetitive washing (personal and/or objects). Many people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder go to great lengths to hide the disorder.
There are three main treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: psychological therapy, medication and community support programs.
Psychological therapy generally involves talking about the obsessions and compulsions in question. Psychologists may offer sufferers alternative ways of thinking and coping with their conditions, and use strategies such as exposure and response prevention. They may also share with the sufferer anxiety management techniques such as mindfulness or breath-focused practice.
Medication generally involves anti-depressants, such as fluoxetine (for example, Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), sertraline (Zoloft) and clomipramine (Anafranil). If there is a psychotic element to the compulsion in question, doctors or psychiatrists may prescribe anti-psychotic medications.
Community support programs generally bring together sufferers and their carers or family to share experiences with the illness and coping or management techniques. Understanding and acceptance can also be an important part of the experience of attending a community support group.
If you are concerned that a loved one might have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder the best first step would be to contact a GP or psychologist. They may be able to help personally, or guide you to someone else who can offer help. In relatively severe cases it may be necessary to see a psychiatrist, sometimes with regularity.
It is important to understand that your loved one may not have control over the compulsive behaviour, and it may be very difficult to challenge their compulsion.