According to Mind, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem in England each year. Consequently, mental illness is a common problem that everybody is facing. Although you may be familiar with depression and anxiety, 1 in 100 people suffer from OCD. This article is about them and for them.
NHS Inform states that 12 in every 1,000 people in the UK suffer from OCD, and often the symptoms are exacerbated by the changes experienced while growing up. Some of these young adult pressures include:
- School life and examination pressures
- Social media
The fluctuations of young adulthood cause stress and anxiety, which in turn triggers more significant OCD symptoms and creates more stress.
How Do We Recognise OCD?
There are two components to OCD. According to Mind, there are the obsessions – or, in other words, our intrusive and worrying thoughts. These thoughts repetitively appear in our minds, causing us to feel more anxious or stressed. An example could be an intrusive thought such as a loved one in pain or danger, an exam result, or work stress – anything causing you persistent anxiety. These thoughts may even cause you to feel ashamed or repulsed as they are worries you are trying to repress. Ultimately, these obsessions become out of hand and impossible to control for those with the illness.
However, the obsessions are only half the issue. Next, come the compulsions. These are the actions you take to expel the obsessions. Some examples could be:
- Excessive handwashing
- Tapping objects a certain number of times
- Switching lights on and off
- Constant reassurance
- Counting and repeating words or phrases in your head
- Thinking stereotypically ‘neutral’ thoughts to force out obsessive ones
- Setting out things in a specific manner
These are only some examples of compulsions. Many may be specific to you and how you deal with your anxieties.
Here’s an anecdote. An 18-year-old girl named Natalie is an A-Level student awaiting her summer results (although Natalie is fictitious, her experiences reflect the real-life feelings of those who combat OCD). OCD can occur at any age but most commonly in late teens. The illness can even affect those as young as primary school children and any age group. Natalie’s results are life-changing as they determine whether or not she’ll go to her dream university, and the pressures her school has put on her don’t help either.
The progression of OCD is gradual, and its severity can fluctuate depending on stress levels. Over several months, Natalie notices a few things. Her exam results drive her crazy, and she obsesses over her grades. Every morning, she thinks about them. Every night, her thoughts dominate her mind. Before bed, she taps her bookcase seven times, switches the light switch on and off, and checks underneath her bed at least three times until she feels ‘just right.’ In her head, these actions fight off her fears of exam failure, and she feels optimistic that she’ll receive A grades because of these rituals.
Here’s the thing, though – these obsessions do not stop at exams. Thoughts become more serious. She convinces herself that her boyfriend will break up with her if these rituals are not completed. These rituals become physically exhausting after a tiring day. Natalie has a summer job, working 8 hours, but still completes her rituals every night until she is mentally and physically exhausted. After a while, Natalie’s exhaustion becomes too overwhelming.
She starts feeling anxious and guilty – anxious about the obsessions, and guilty about her inability to complete certain compulsions. Consequently, her obsessions become more morbid. Fortunately, she decides to open up to her doctor. Now, she completes weekly therapy and is on medication for her diagnosed OCD.
It’s tricky. Although OCD may seem like a never-ending illness, there are ways to manage it. Here are some suggestions:
- Keeping a diary of rituals
- Talking to a therapist
- Surrounding yourself with loved ones
- Creating a reliable support network
- Talking to a doctor about any medication which may be required
- Breathing techniques
Of course, seeking help through a doctor or therapist is hard but necessary when you need help. OCD is a mental illness that can be fought against once the right help and management strategies are secured.
Supporting Each Other
Whether or not you think you or someone you know may be suffering from OCD, it’s essential to be understanding. Mental illness is no joke, and it is hard for those fighting against it. We must support one another to get better and remind each other we are not alone.
This is a magazine article and in no way offers any medical advice. If seeking medical advice, please talk to your GP.