Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition in which a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

It affects men, women and children and can develop at any age. Some people develop the condition early, often around puberty, but it typically develops during early adulthood.

OCD can be distressing and significantly interfere with your life, but treatment can help you keep it under control.

This page covers:

Symptoms

Getting help

Treatments

Causes

Support groups

Symptoms of OCD

If you have OCD, you'll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

  • An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
  • A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.

For example, someone with an obsessive fear of their house being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave the house.

Read more about the symptoms of OCD.

Getting help for OCD

People with OCD are often reluctant to seek help because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.

But there's nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. It's a health condition like any other – it doesn't mean you're "mad" and it's not your fault you have it.

There are two main ways to get help:

  • visit your GP – your GP will ask about your symptoms and can refer you to a local psychological therapy service if necessary
  • refer yourself directly to a psychological therapy service – search for psychological therapy services near you to see if your local services accept self-referrals

If you think a friend or family member may have OCD, try talking to them about your concerns and suggest they seek help.

OCD is unlikely to get better without proper treatment and support.

Treatments for OCD

There are some effective treatments for OCD that can help reduce the impact the condition has on your life.

The main treatments are:

CBT will usually have an effect quite quickly. It can take several months before you notice the effects of treatment with SSRIs, but most people will eventually benefit.

If these treatments don't help, you may be offered an alternative SSRI or given a combination of an SSRI and CBT. Some people may be referred to a specialist mental health service for further treatment.

Read more about how OCD is treated.

Causes of OCD

It's not clear exactly what causes OCD. A number of different factors may play a role in the condition.

These include:

  • family history – you're more likely to develop OCD if a family member has it, possibly because of your genes
  • differences in the brain – some people with OCD have areas of unusually high activity in their brain or low levels of a chemical called serotonin
  • life events – OCD may be more common in people who've experienced bullying, abuse or neglect and it sometimes starts after an important life event, such as childbirth or a bereavement
  • personality – neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop OCD, as may those who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others

Support groups

Living with OCD can be difficult. In addition to getting medical help, you might find it helps to contact a support group or other people with OCD for information and advice.

The following sites may be useful sources of support:

OCD Action, OCD-UK and TOP UK can also let you know about any local support groups in your area.

Page last reviewed: 28/09/2016

Next review due: 28/09/2019