As we’ve discussed on the show, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is frequently used incorrectly to describe an individual’s preference for organization and neatness. In reality, OCD is a much more complicated condition. Let’s break it down.
It is estimated that 1.2% of the US population suffers from OCD in a given year, with around 50% of this group reporting severe impairment to their daily functioning (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017). The condition is classified as an anxiety disorder and is usually identified by the presence of intrusive, obsessive thought patterns followed by compulsive actions aimed at reducing the stress incurred from the thoughts. Both of these become pathological when they cause anxiety and interfere with activities of daily living (Lack, 2012).
Interestingly enough, most individuals with OCD share similar obsessions and compulsions. So much so, that several categories have been identified:
- Obsessive thought patterns surrounding germs, bacteria, viruses, and illness
- Leads to compulsive behaviors regarding hand washing, bathing, and cleaning
- Obsessive thought patterns surrounding the harm of oneself or others
- Leads to compulsive behaviors regarding checking (such as checking if the oven was left on, making sure windows and doors are closed and locked, unplugging all appliances, etc…). It is important to note hear that this compulsive checking is often repeated over and over again.
- Obsessive thought patterns surrounding sex, aggression, or religion
- Leads to compulsive behaviors such as extensive mental rituals to “right” the improper thoughts, usually in the form of prayer, repetition of mantras, and/or counting
- Obsessive thought patterns surrounding the symmetry and evenness of things
- Leads to compulsive behaviors such as straightening, counting, and ordering things
- Obsessive thought patterns surrounding the utility of items that may have been deemed as trash
- Leads to compulsive hoarding of trash, food, and other items
(Stein et al., 2019).
Individuals with OCD may struggle with none or all of these obsessions and compulsions. However, an important caveat in the diagnosis of OCD is the reasonability of these obsessions and compulsions. For example, fears of contamination and compulsive hand washing at the height of the COVID pandemic would not likely be seen as OCD behavior, because it is the response to a real threat, rather than intrusive thought patterns (Vernola & Faraci, 2020).