What Is OCD? Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Facts

Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

Most of us have heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder, frequently abbreviated or referred to simply as OCD. But, you might wonder, what is OCD behavior? How do you know if you have OCD? If I do have obsessive-compulsive disorder, what do I do to treat it? This article will describe OCD obsessions and compulsions, OCD symptoms, and facts about this frequently misunderstood yet common mental health disorder.

OCD Overview: What Is OCD?

What is OCD? Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a diagnosable mental disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. OCD symptoms may include compulsive behavior, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, hypervigilance, repetition of words, actions, behaviors, rituals, feelings of guilt, social isolation, rumination, and frustration affiliated with obsessing compulsions. It is important to note that OCD manifests differently for everyone and that different people will experience different obsessions, compulsions, and symptoms. It is considered a common, treatable disorder.

Obsession Vs. Compulsion

You might wonder, what are obsessions and compulsions? Obsessions in those with OCD refer to recurring, repetitive thoughts or fixation(s). For example, someone with OCD may be obsessed with potential harm, which might mean that they are obsessed with protecting themselves or their family from the possibility of getting robbed. Another example would be that someone is obsessed with the possibility of contamination and making sure that everything is contamination-free. Now, it makes sense to protect yourself from being robbed or to keep yourself and your home clean. The difference is that, for someone with OCD, this will be highly consuming and will impact a person's life.

Compulsions in OCD refers to compulsive behaviors or actions. Let's say that someone with OCD is indeed obsessed with protecting themselves or their family from the possibility of a robbery or break-in. A person with this compulsion might repeatedly check the locks on their doors to make sure that they are secured, put things in front of the doors at night to ensure that no one comes in, return home or turn around and drive back after leaving just to make sure that everything's okay when there's no reason to do so, and so on. Someone who notices this behavior might ask, "why are there so many things stacked in front of your door?" or "why do you need to turn around to check to make sure that everything's locked every time we leave?" Someone with OCD will be overwhelmed by the obsession and use the compulsions to feel better and soothe the distress.

How Many People Have OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD impacts roughly 2.3% of the United States population aged 18 and older. That means that roughly one out of every 40 adults in the United States has OCD. Additionally, The International OCD Foundation or IOCDF states that "There are at least 1 in 200 – or 500,000 – kids and teens that have OCD. This is about the same number of kids who have diabetes. That means four or five kids with OCD are likely to be enrolled in an average size elementary school. In a medium to large high school, there could be 20 students struggling with the challenges caused by OCD." OCD doesn't discriminate. It can impact anyone. However, there are potential risk factors that can predict a higher likelihood of someone developing OCD.

Risk Factors

The risk mentioned above factors for OCD may include:

  • Trauma or a traumatic experience
  • Family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder or another mental health disorder
  • Personal history of another medical or mental health condition
  • Age
  • Stress

OCD Information And Facts

Here are some facts and statistics about obsessive-compulsive disorder that may surprise you:

  • There are several celebrities or people in the public eye who have opened up about having OCD publicly in interviews or media outlets. These celebrities include Howie Mandel, Fiona Apple, Howard Stern, Cameron Diaz, Billy Bob Thornton, David Beckham, Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Fox, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, and Daniel Radcliffe.
  • The average age of diagnosis for those with OCD is about 19 years old, according to the National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH). However, someone can develop OCD at any age. The IOCDF says that there are two age ranges where OCD is most likely to develop between the ages of 8 and 12 years old or during one's late teen years or early adulthood years.
  • Comorbidities are common in those with OCD. Frequently seen comorbidities in obsessive-compulsive disorder include anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and depression.
  • OCD is more common in those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than in the rest of the population.
  • According to the National Institute Of Mental Health, obsessions and compulsions were described in the psychiatric literature for the first time in 1838. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder wasn't named or recognized as a disorder until later on.
  • OCD was formerly categorized as an anxiety disorder in the DSM. While it's closely linked, obsessive-compulsive disorder is now listed under "obsessive-compulsive and related disorders."
  • There are a number of different common obsessive-compulsive disorder subtypes. Frequently recognized OCD subtypes include contamination OCD, harm obsession OCD with checking behaviors, symmetry obsessions with ordering compulsions, purely obsessive OCD, and relationship OCD.
  • Disorders related to OCD include body dysmorphic disorder or BDD and disorders characterized by body-focused repetitive behaviors such as trichotillomania (hair-pulling) or skin picking (dermatillomania), which is also referred to as skin picking disorder or excoriation.
  • One of the most common myths about OCD is that everyone has it obsessed with ordering or cleanliness. This is not true. Again, there are different subtypes of OCD. While some people do have contamination OCD with cleaning compulsions or symmetry OCD with ordering compulsions, this is not the case for everyone diagnosed with OCD.
  • While hoarding can exist independent of OCD, hoarding can be a symptom of OCD if someone has obsessions with hoarding behaviors.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is considered a disability. If your OCD is severe and impacts your ability to work, you may be eligible for social security benefits.
  • There's no known "cure" for OCD, but OCD treatment is effective and well-studied, with ERP known as one of the best forms of therapy for the disorder.

OCD Treatment

There are a variety of potential treatments for OCD. Therapy for OCD is very effective, and cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT* is one of the most popular treatment forms for OCD. More specifically, a subtype of OCD called ERP therapy is frequently used to treat OCD. ERP therapy refers to "exposure and response prevention therapy." To find a therapist or counselor who treats OCD, you can search the web for "OCD therapist near me," "ERP for OCD near me," use an online directory, contact your doctor and ask for a referral, or try an online therapy website like BetterHelp where you can take a questionnaire and get paired with a provider. If your child or teen has OCD, you can look for a child and adolescent therapist or counselor near you who works with those who have OCD. It's possible to live a full, happy life with OCD.

Peer Support For OCD

While peer support isn't a replacement for help from a medical or mental health professional, it can be beneficial. Peer support options such as support groups and online support forums have the potential to be helpful for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can be comforting to know that someone else is going through the same thing. You can find a support group by asking a counselor or therapist for recommendations or by searching "OCD support groups near me." You can also find support groups that meet virtually and connect online. Forums for OCD include the obsessive-compulsive disorder forum on mentalhealthforum.net, the obsessive-compulsive disorder forum on support.therapytribe.com, and the IOCDF peer support forum. Make sure to practice online safety tactics when using online forums and support groups and check-in with yourself regularly to ensure that your internet usage is healthy and safe.

Take The Mind Diagnostics OCD Test

Do you think that you could have obsessive-compulsive disorder? If so, consider taking the Mind Diagnostics OCD test. The Mind diagnostics OCD test is not a replacement for seeing a medical or mental health professional for a diagnosis or evaluation. Still, it can't be the first step to getting the help you need, and it can give you insight into the symptoms you're experiencing. Keep in mind that although people of all ages can have OCD, the Mind Diagnostics OCD test is for those aged 18 and older.

Click here to take the Mind Diagnostics OCD test.

*Please consult a medical or mental health professional for any individual medical or mental health advice and information regarding specific treatments.

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