Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC
Finding support for mental illness is often considered one of the most important parts of finding safety and securing a solid understanding source. For many, support comes from a consistent therapy relationship and is sought from a qualified mental health professional. Although therapy itself is a wonderful form of support and treatment, gleaning support from people who have experienced similar symptoms, treatment methods, and currently in remission can provide a sense of safety, understanding, and hope for the future. Although the internet has support groups, message boards, and seemingly “safe” spaces aplenty, are all of these options truly created equal?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Comprehensive Review
While Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is often treated as a simple and even endearing personality quirk, it is identified as a clinically recognized anxiety disorder that can severely and negatively impact someone’s day-to-day life. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a disorder with two very important components: obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. The two are often linked together in expression. This means that when an obsessive thought arises, compulsion may be used to calm or cope with the obsessive thought. To qualify for a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the following symptoms must be present and cause some degree of distress:
- Repeating thoughts, images, or ideas. People with OCD will experience repetitive thoughts, images, and ideas over time, whether that period is a few days, a few weeks, or even longer. These thoughts might be random and benign but can also be extremely troubling and may include violent or sexual thoughts that cause extreme distress.
- Repetitive behaviors. Repetitive behaviors are often tied to repeating thoughts but may not always have a direct tie. Repetitive behaviors might involve other objects, such as turning a timer on and off until it reaches the “right” number of times being turned on and off, or might involve only the individual’s body, such as constantly picking at skin or drumming fingers.
- Uncontrolled thoughts and images. The thoughts and images described above are not intentional or controlled but are instead characterized by unbidden, sudden, or unwanted onset.
- Feelings of distress and relief in the midst of compulsions. Compulsions are not merely acted upon to fulfill the compulsion but typically offer some relief from obsessive thoughts, if only briefly. Even if the compulsions themselves bring distress, they provide some degree of relief from symptoms of anxiety.
- Significant disruption to daily life as a result of thoughts or compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions may be managed and coped with enough to function in daily life, but they still typically cause some degree of distress in everyday life. This distress is often the reason behind seeking counseling or treatment.
If you are not sure whether your symptoms are likely to constitute OCD symptoms, and online Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder test can help identify symptoms and the likelihood of them suggesting OCD as the source.
Because Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder, treatment often involves some amount of pharmaceutical intervention. Anti-anxiety medication can help manage the effects of OCD, and other medications such as antipsychotic medication can help manage the many cascading effects of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In addition to medication, therapists will typically encourage psychotherapy to create a healthier and more robust set of coping skills that can simultaneously manage the effects of obsessive thoughts and the drive behind compulsive behaviors.
Support Groups And OCD
Although support groups are not intended or encouraged to take the place of therapy altogether, they are often encouraged as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, as they can provide a great deal of comfort, security, and understanding for people struggling with OCD symptoms. Support groups are intended not as a platform from which to complain about OCD symptoms, lament your shortcomings, or express your belief that treatment will never work. Instead, support groups are designed to offer exactly what their name suggests: support. Support groups are typically led by mental health professionals or volunteers in the field and are held in controlled circumstances. Some may have topics to go over each meeting, and others may not, but the core of support groups is the same: these spaces offer a safe meeting place for people who have OCD—or loved ones of people who experience OCD—to provide support, encouragement, and hope.
Support groups may not be required for successful Obsessive Compulsive Disorder treatment—indeed, not everyone finds them useful—but they may provide additional sources of help and support. They can spur people with OCD to continue therapy and complete all therapist-delivered directives to heal OCD sources and more effectively cope with and manage symptoms. Support groups can soothe people with OCD's fears by letting them see a visceral, clear example of other people experiencing symptoms similar to their own. They can also help people new to OCD treatment see people who have successfully undergone treatment, who are currently living symptom-free. Support groups are often comprised of people of different ages, backgrounds, and severity levels to create a diverse, thriving, and welcoming community. Organizations such as Obsessive-Compulsive Anonymous can provide support groups around the country.
Online Forums And Support Groups
Online forums and support groups differ in several ways, some of them trivial, and some of them extremely important. An online forum is typically a lightly moderated board, with an uncontrolled and unvetted following. These boards can post practically anything without prior approval and may vary substantially in quality and consideration. Online forums, because they are not guided or mediated by a mental health professional or mental health volunteer, are not typically structured in their approach. Virtually anyone can post a comment or a question. Although online moderators can remove inflammatory posts, these posts may not be removed in enough time to prevent damage to those visiting or using the message boards.
Support groups, conversely, are typically delivered either in person or through a specific platform and are usually moderated or lead by someone who has been trained to work with mental illness. Leading and moderating a support group makes sure the group is a safe space for all participants and allows any inappropriate, derogatory, or harmful comments or posts to be removed or, in the case of in-person groups, to be addressed, discussed, and improved. The careful monitoring of support groups is often considered a vital component of their efficacy. A safe space to discuss mental health is the only true way to build trust and feel seen without fear of retribution or being met with disgust. An unregulated or unmoderated group or message board could invite a great deal of self-disgust or self-hatred and could even create a resurgence of symptoms or a setback in treatment.
Reddit OCD Forums
Reddit is known as one of the most prolific and often used forums online, and it has a truly immense range of topics from which to choose, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder among them. Reddit OCD forums can be useful for people with OCD, as they can provide some form of community for people with OCD who may not have family members or friends who can offer a source of support or encouragement. Reddit can connect people with OCD from all over the world, some of whom might have symptoms that do not seem to mesh with the standard OCD symptoms listed or identified in common literature. In this respect, even online forums such as Reddit can be helpful for people exhibiting OCD symptoms.
By that same token, however, Reddit and similar online forums can prove to be problematic. OCD can react intensely to a wide number of triggers. Although reading about others’ experiences can be helpful and encouraging, it can also trigger an individual’s own obsessive or compulsive tendencies without the help of a counselor or mental health professional at hand. Someone who has undergone treatment and has a solid handle on symptoms may not experience many negative effects while using an online message board. Still, someone who has not yet sought treatment or who is in the beginning stages of treatment may find themselves experiencing a surge of symptoms, or a tidal wave of self-directed anger, disgust, or embarrassment, should they come across an unkind word or targeted comment online.
Maintaining Boundaries: Seeking OCD Support
While support groups can be immensely helpful at the beginning, middle, and end of OCD treatment—and can even contribute to maintaining your remission status—not all OCD support sources are created equal. Although it can be helpful to see other examples of Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms and manifestations, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder forum that is run or moderated by mental health professionals or designated teams who comb through posts limit the ability to post offensive or inflammatory discussions is far superior to Pure OCD forums on Reddit. A legitimate support group is one that offers a consistently safe space for sharing and learning, with careful boundaries put in place, and can be an incredible tool for increased healing and remission maintenance over the long term.