This article covers
- What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD?
- Causes of OCD
- The symptoms of OCD
- Treating OCD
- List of useful resources
- How can Mindsum help?
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is when the child or young person continues to have recurrent obsessional thoughts and compulsions, or both. OCD does not just mean that people like to wash their hands regularly and be tidy. It is a serious condition that often makes everyday life extremely hard to cope with.
For example, a child or young person may have constant unwelcomed thoughts that their parents might suddenly die. They might repeat special ritualistic words out loud several times, convinced that this will stop it from happening.
Children and young people living with OCD can feel very anxious, lonely and isolated. The obsessive thoughts are sometimes very disturbing, and it can leave them feeling shameful and out of control. The compulsions can also take a long time to complete and it can be seen as strange by others. It is important to support children and young people with OCD in managing the disorder and preventing serious problems in their mental health.
Causes of OCD
The specific cause of OCD is not known. It is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These are some risk factors to consider:
- Runs in families
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Childhood neglect
- During and after pregnancy (e.g. unwanted thoughts of hurting the baby)
- Existing learning disorders
The symptoms of OCD
There are different possible symptoms of OCD. The symptoms can affect each child or young person differently. All symptoms include either obsessional thoughts, compulsions or both.
Obsessional thoughts are unwelcomed thoughts or images that repeatedly appear in the mind. For example:
- Worries about being sick or contaminated
- Worries about sudden death of loved ones
- Unwanted thoughts and urges to hurt people
- Forbidden thoughts (e.g. unwanted violence or sexual acts)
- Superstitious fears (e.g. bad numbers)
It is common for children and young people with OCD to have obsessional thoughts that are magical or superstitious in nature (e.g. belief that certain numbers are bad).
Compulsions are repetitive acts that the person feels like they need to perform because of the obsession. These can be mental acts or behaviours. For example:
- Repetitive washing
- Checking (e.g. locked doors, electrical items, gas)
- Ordering or arranging
- Repeating special words, counting, tapping
- Avoiding (e.g. numbers, people, objects)
OCD can lead to other mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. This can make OCD extremely difficult to live with.
Ally is a 10 year-old-girl. Recently, she has had many thoughts that her parents will suddenly die. She feels terrified when this happens. She doesn’t know why she has these thoughts but says it goes away if she taps on a flat surface 20 times. Ally’s parents became even more worried, when she recently had one of these thoughts while they were outdoors, and Ally had a severe panic attack as she could not find any flat surfaces nearby. Ally’s parents decided that it was time to speak to a mental health expert.”
There are different treatment types that can successfully reduce the symptoms of OCD and stop the disorder from continuing. Treatment can include the following:
Exposure and response prevention
This is a specialised therapy for OCD. It teaches the child or young person to recognise that nothing bad will happen when they do not perform compulsive acts. The therapist will provide a safe environment where the child will learn that their feelings of fear will eventually disappear.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy will help the child or young person understand how their thoughts, feelings and behaviour work together. The child will be taught skills on how to manage the symptoms of OCD.
Your doctor may prescribe medication for OCD. This can be offered alone or in combination with therapy. Medication can include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), an anti-depressant that is known to be effective in treating OCD.
- Clomipramine, an anti-depressant that is offered when SSRIs are not effective.
There are a few things that parents/carers can also do to help their child cope with OCD. These include:
- Talking to your child about their thoughts and fears
- Being curious about any potential bullying or other stressors taking place
- Reassuring your child that anxiety always goes away after a few minutes
- Encouraging your child to do rituals or compulsions less often
For some people with extreme and severe OCD, all of the above treatment may not work. There are specialist OCD services available that can provide further support in this case. These can be found on the NHS website.
You can get more information about OCD on the NHS website. Click here to access the link.
You can get more information about OCD and access to support groups on the national OCD UK website. Click here to access the link.
The OCD Youth website offers helpful resources and access to support groups for young people. Click here to access the link.