OCD Awareness Week

The OCD week of action will be running from 18-24 February. The OCD Action led campaign aims to break the stigma around mental health and to increase understanding and change perceptions of OCD.

Many people use the term “a bit OCD-ish” to describe personal quirks however real OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – is a clinically recognised mental health disorder that affects both men and women equally, even children can suffer from OCD. It is so prevalent that according to OCD Action it affects 1-2% of the UK population.

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a common and severe mental health condition that typically develops during early adulthood however it can, and does often, appear during puberty. It is debilitating and paralysing, someone with OCD may find their entire life significantly disrupted by it. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is listed by the World Health Organization as one of the top ten debilitating disorders.

If someone has OCD they experience intensely negative, repetitive and intrusive and involuntary thoughts, combined with a chronic feeling of doubt or danger – these thoughts are called obsessions and can cause significant anxiety. To overcome these anxieties or thoughts someone will feel compelled to repeat a certain action again and again – these respective actions are called compulsions. Unfortunately, once the person has completed the action the anxiety or obsession returns shortly after and they feel compelled to complete it again to gain relief and thus become caught in a vicious cycle.

Contrary to general belief OCD obsessions are not just quirks or limited to hand washing. According to OCD Action: “Common obsessions include, but are not limited to, fears about dirt, germs and contamination; fears of acting out violent or aggressive thoughts or impulses; unreasonable fears of harming others, especially loved ones; abhorrent, blasphemous or sexual thoughts; inordinate concern with order, arrangement or symmetry; inability to discard useless or worn out possessions; and fears that things are not safe, e.g. household appliances. The main features of obsessions are that they are automatic, frequent, upsetting or distressing, and difficult to control or get rid of. They are nearly always inconsistent with a person’s values.” People with OCD are not mad or dangerous and do not carry out their unpleasant thoughts. The anxiety they experience is because of knowing that the obsessive thoughts are excessive or irrational, but they are unable to ignore them. Compulsions can be observable actions, for example washing, but they can also be mental rituals such as repeating words or phrases, counting, or saying a prayer. The severity of OCD differs significantly between people, but each person’s distress is very real. One of the main reasons why the prevalence of OCD has been underestimated in the past is that people with OCD are often afraid to seek help or embarrassed. They fear being stigmatized as mad or crazy, and often do not know that their disorder is a recognised condition with effective treatments and it is not their fault.

What causes OCD?

Although a clear cause for OCD is not yet known recent research has found evidence to suggest that some possible causes could include a genetic vulnerability to developing OCD, a difference in brain chemistry or activity, personality or psychological factors such as susceptibility to stress or exposure to an emotionally traumatic experience may also play a role. The good news is that, for the majority, OCD can be effectively controlled and treated. Treatment for OCD can include psychological therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medication.

It’s important to get help if you think you have OCD and it’s having a significant impact on your life. If you become aware that friend or family member may have OCD try talking to them in a supportive manner and encourage them to get the help they need. For OCD to get better the proper treatment and support is crucial.

Where can you get help?

You can find help by either contacting your GP who can refer you on or you can self-refer into a psychotherapy service. The NHS Choices Directory can be helpful in this

There are also UK based organisations who provide information and support to those affected and suffering from OCD, you can visit the following websites:


  • Contact your GP or care team immediately if you ever feel you can’t go on.
  • You can also phone the Samaritans on 116 123 or NHS111 both services operate 24hrs a day.


Sources: OCD Action, OCD UK, NHS Choices