Common ailments

OCD

I have suffered with various forms of OCD over the past few years, but recently things have become so bad that I’m afraid my partner will leave me. When I am out of the house, I’m afraid of catching germs from other people and then contaminating my partner and my home. I constantly feel the need to wash my hands and disinfect all my household surfaces, including door handles. I know my behaviour is irrational but how can I control my situation before it gets any worse?

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is an anxiety-related condition that affects around 2% of the population. Generally, people with OCD experience unwelcome obsessional thoughts which are often followed by repetitive compulsions and urges in order to put right the obsession. Just like you, most people with OCD know that their compulsions are unreasonable or over the top, but they feel unable to control their thoughts or change their behaviour.

Evidence suggests that in some cases OCD may run in families and is linked to certain inherited genes that affect the brain's development. Brain imaging studies have also shown that people with OCD have abnormalities, such as increased blood flow and activity, in parts of the brain that deal with strong emotions and the response to them.

If you have OCD, seeking help is the most important thing you can do. I would advise that you visit your GP. Initially, they will probably ask you some questions about your obsessive feelings and may then refer you to be assessed in order to confirm a diagnosis. If you are formally diagnosed with OCD, your treatment is likely to involve behavioural therapy to change your behaviour and reduce your anxiety, and medication to help control your symptoms.

Research has shown that the most successful way to tackle OCD is by gradually facing or exposing yourself to the things or situations you fear, whilst at the same time preventing yourself from behaving in your usual compulsive way. The idea behind this approach is that you will gradually become less afraid of what used to trouble you. Eventually, you will realise that no harm will come to you or anyone else if you stop your compulsive behaviour. You might wish to consider asking your partner to help you through the process. Their involvement might help them better understand what you’re going through as well as offering you the much needed support of someone who is close to you.

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