Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Behaviours in Young People
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Its normal to have random unwanted thoughts from time to time. We all experience this! Its also normal to have certain little routines that makes us feel more comfortable, to want things done in a certain way. We might laugh and say we have “a bit of OCD” but in reality living with OCD is very different.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It can be serious, but it is treatable.
People with OCD have repeating thoughts, images or feelings that are distressing. These are sometimes known as ‘obsessions’ or ‘obsessive thoughts’. Sometimes when our mind is filled with very upsetting thoughts, we can try to take actions that will bring us relief and make the thoughts go away. We might start to believe that these actions will get rid of our anxiety or make these thoughts go away. Sometimes having rituals that calm us down can be really helpful. But sometimes these rituals or habits become ‘compulsions’, meaning that we think we have to do them. We might start to believe that if we don’t do them, something bad will happen to us, or to the people around us.
It’s important to realise that with OCD, often our compulsive habits or rituals end up making us feel worse. This is because once the ritual is finished, anxious thoughts come rushing back again, sometimes even more extreme. This is how some people get trapped in a cycle of doing the same action again and again, feeling unable to stop.
OCD rituals can be obvious to other people (like checking if doors are locked) or they can happen inside your head (like counting things, or trying to counteract negative thoughts with positive ones).
What can I do to help myself?
Try not to judge the thoughts which pop into your mind as good or bad or positive or negative. Just allow your thoughts to be there, you don’t have to do anything with them. Just let them come and go and stay in their own time.
Keep a diary of your symptoms. Try to figure out: What are things which set off your symptoms? What obsessions, or unwanted thoughts do you experience? What do they say?
Figure out what makes you feel soothed and relaxed and make sure you have some relaxation time in your schedule each day.
When you face these situations, try your best to boss OCD back by stopping yourself from doing any compulsions. Stay in the situation until your level of anxiety naturally lowers by itself, without the need for compulsions. Practise this as much as possible.
People with OCD often seek out a lot of reassurance from others which can keep anxiety alive. This is because it can become a bottomless pit over time, the more reassurance we need and often no matter how much reassurance we get we still never feel reassured.
Ask your friends and family to look out for times you are looking for reassurance, and come up with something else they could say to you rather than giving reassurance (e.g. “You are doing so well at trying to face your fears, and boss OCD back, keep going, I know you can do it!”)
When might a referral be appropriate?
If you feel like your symptoms are getting in the way of how you want to live your life.
Are causing you a lot of distress and upsetting feelings, and are very time consuming (up to 1 hour or more per day), you might benefit from a referral.
What can I expect?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for OCD. It looks at the links between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It is based on how we think about things impacts how we feel and what we do. CBT is a collaborative therapy, meaning you and your therapist will work together as a team. CBT usually involves homework between sessions to keep progress going.
A big part of CBT for OCD involves Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP involves facing our fears and starting to boss OCD back. It involves gradually facing situations which set off OCD symptoms, and supporting people to not engage in compulsive behaviours. By doing so, it helps a person to learn that their anxiety will reduce on their own without the need for compulsions. However, this takes a lot of practise and repetition before a person can feel confident
Therapy involves a big commitment, usually meeting weekly or fortnightly. It’s important to meet regularly so that your therapist can provide the best support possible. Sometimes people aren’t ready for this commitment, or it’s not the right time for them, and that’s ok.
Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Behaviours for Parents/Carers
How do I know if my child has a Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety-related mental health difficulty. It has two parts: obsessions and compulsions.
- Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images that repeatedly pop into our minds without any warning.
- Obsessions can be really distressing, and very difficult for people to take their minds off of them.
- There are different types of obsessions people might experience.
- Some of the most common include themes of contamination (e.g. fears of being contaminated with germs or disease following touching certain things), self-doubt (e.g. fears about whether one has or has not locked the door, or switched off appliances), aggression (e.g. fears one may attack someone else despite the person strongly not wanting to do this), sexual imagery (e.g. forbidden sexual thoughts replaying on one’s mind), or order/symmetry (e.g. a strong feeling someone you love might get hurt if you do not colour coordinate your possessions).
- Compulsions are the behaviours people do in order to cope with their obsessions.
- This often involves performing some kind of action in an attempt to reduce how distressing the obsession is for the person.
- Compulsions can either be physical behaviours (e.g. hand washing, checking, putting things in order, avoiding situations with trigger obsessions, or seeking a lot of reassurance from others), or mental acts (e.g. repeating words over and over, counting things).
How might this affect them?
- Lots of reassurance seeking from others
- Strong urges to engage in behaviours to stop thoughts from coming true
- Lots of overwhelming unwanted thoughts
- Being very rigid in the way they think about things
- Overwhelming feeling like something bad might happen or like there is danger everywhere
- Doing lots of things to help get rid of difficult thoughts
- Becoming very upset or distressed when facing things they fear
- May feel shameful about the obsessions or compulsions they experience
- Repetitive behaviours, routines or rituals which they have to perform in their own way or they get very distressed.
- Strong urges to engage in behaviours to stop thoughts from coming true
What can I do to help my child?
Normalise that we all have random, unwanted thoughts from time to time. Help your child to try not to judge our thoughts as good or bad, or positive or negative. Encourage them to just allow their thoughts to be there without having to do anything with them. Just letting them come and go and stay in their own time.
Encourage your child to have some relaxation scheduled in to their day-to-day routine
Often people with OCD seek out a lot of reassurance from others.
Reassurance can be helpful if it is done in a way that encourages a young person to face their fears and demonstrates our confidence in their ability to do so.
Keep a look out for what things your child is seeking reassurance around and remember to use reassurance in a way which encourages them to face their fears and demonstrates our confidence in their ability to do so.
Visit the OCD UK website for further information: https://www.ocduk.org/
When might a referral be appropriate ?
OCD is one of the more complex anxiety-related mental health difficulties.
If you feel like the problems are having a significant impact on the young person’s day-to-day life, such that they are causing extreme distress for the young person, and are very time consuming, a referral could be appropriate.