What do you picture when you read the words “obsessive-compulsive disorder”? The first image that may come to mind might be someone washing their hands over and over again until they’re raw. While this can absolutely be a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, also called OCD, it’s not the only way that the condition can present itself. If your teen has been diagnosed with the condition or if you suspect that OCD might be causing your child’s anxiety or unwanted thoughts or behaviors, check out this list of 7 things you should know about obsessive-compulsive disorder.
#1. OCD starts with obsessions
As the name suggests, OCD has two components that go hand in hand. The first is obsessions. A person with this mental health disorder has intrusive, often troubling thoughts that he or she can’t get out of their head. These thoughts can include fears of germs, fears of forgetting to do something that will cause themselves or someone else harm, fears that they did something terrible and didn’t realize it, or fears of something bad happening due to things not being perfectly in order. The fears and bad thoughts are not something that the person with OCD can control, so saying, “just stop thinking about it,” is not helpful.
#2. OCD includes compulsive behaviors
As a result of the intrusive, obsessive thoughts, the person with OCD will look for a way to relieve their anxiety and to reassure themselves that everything is (or will be) okay. This is where the compulsions come in. They will often begin a routine of checking, rechecking, and performing specific actions that will help them temporarily deal with the negative thoughts. The relief is only temporary, however, and they will then need to perform the actions over and over again.
One example is excessive hand-washing. Another might be checking and rechecking that a door is locked or having to count the stairs as they go up or down. Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily the action that’s a problem; counting stairs or keeping a desk in perfect order isn’t an issue if it doesn’t negatively impact the person’s life. When it becomes a matter of needing to do the action over and over, however, it becomes a compulsion and contributes to the condition.
#3. People with OCD often realize that their obsessions are irrational
Although OCD causes intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions, people with the disorder usually realize that what they are doing does not make sense. If your teen has OCD, telling him or her not to perform the anxiety-relieving actions or trying to assure them that their obsessions aren’t rational won’t help. They already know this. The issue is that the disorder makes it nearly impossible for them to stop focusing on the bad thoughts or performing the compulsive actions.
#4. OCD negatively affects some aspects of a person’s life
Your teen might keep a very neat room or might occasionally over think situations. They might get upset if someone puts tries to rearrange their belongings, or they might worry about you if you are late getting home in the evening. While these thoughts and activities can seem like they have something in common with obsessive-compulsive disorder, most of the time, they’re within the range of normal thoughts and actions.
A person with OCD finds that the intrusive thoughts and associated actions negatively impacts their life. This means that if your teen has OCD, he or she might frequently be late to school due to following the “needed” routines and performing the repetitive actions. Or they might avoid leaving the house after school because they’re afraid that if they’re not home for dinner, something terrible might happen. They could have trouble sleeping or be plagued by intrusive mental images on a regular basis. If you notice these signs in your teen, seek help.
#5. OCD is common in children and teenagers
Although the symptoms of OCD can begin in adulthood, many people diagnosed with the condition began exhibiting symptoms during late childhood and adolescence. Of course, many people are not diagnosed until years later. Early diagnosis can allow for early treatment, which can make your teen’s life easier and get the condition under control more quickly than if he or she waits until adulthood for diagnosis. That’s why it’s important to watch for symptoms and to have them evaluated promptly.
#6. OCD can run in families
Obsessive-compulsive disorder tends to occur in families where someone already has the disorder. If you or your child’s other parent has OCD, your teen might be more likely to develop it. Also, if you have one child with the condition, your other children may have an increased risk of developing it, as well.
In addition to OCD itself running in families, close family members who have anxiety or tics can also make it more likely that your teen will develop OCD.
#7. OCD is treatable
If your teen has OCD, he or she will not have to live with disabling symptoms for life. There are effective treatments available. The first is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This is a type of therapy that helps people with OCD learn how to properly channel their anxiety without resorting to the compulsive actions. It can also help redirect thoughts in the first place. Another is medication. Antidepressants have been shown to have a positive impact on those with OCD. Because there are some dangers to using antidepressants in teenagers, the risks of these medications will need to be weighed against the benefits. In severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, can be used. This is a more invasive procedure, and would only be suggested if CBT and medication did not help.
If you are concerned that your teen might be showing symptoms of OCD, don’t hesitate to ask your family doctor to do a screening. This can help rule out or confirm a diagnosis, and it will allow the doctor to refer you and your teen to the appropriate mental health professional. Early treatment allows for a better outcome, so don’t delay. OCD will not get better on its own, but with prompt treatment, your teen can get relief from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.