Teen obsessive-compulsive disorder is a form of anxiety disorder characterized by long-lasting incessant upsetting thoughts, or obsessions that cause repetitive behaviors, or compulsions. OCD is often misunderstood as an excessive attention to detail, but it is usually a more complex disorder. Symptoms can range in severity but is usually characterized as debilitating. The key lies in the persistence and often unwanted nature of these thoughts and compulsions.
Contamination/Washing – Characterized by teens having a constant, overwhelming sense that they’ve somehow been contaminated, and therefore, need to repeatedly wash themselves. Among this subtype, some teens don’t connect the contamination to a larger threat, while others believe that if not treated properly, they might become further infected and/or infect others.
Harm Obsessions/Checking – Characterized by teens constantly checking to make sure that they haven’t done something that will cause serious harm to themselves or others. They may lock, unlock, and relock a door a certain number of times, or get up to repeatedly check the stove. The looming fear of incredibly unlikely scenarios causes overwhelming anxiety.
Pure Obsessions – Characterized by anxiety connected to religious, sexual, or physical danger, which causes teens to constantly pray or sometimes count in a specific way, in order to protect themselves from the imagined harm. This subset is also characterized by teens feeling an excessive amount of shame or guilt.
Hoarding – Characterized by an inability to get rid of any possessions, even those of seeming insignificance to others. Forcibly taking away even something as mundane as wrapper or trash can lead a teen to lash out or become depressed.
Genetic factors – studies have shown that the risk of developing OCD is higher if one or more direct relatives have the disorder, suggesting that genes play a part in it.
Brain structure – research has also shown that that OCD can be traced to the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain. The exact nature of the abnormalities is unknown, but there are certain treatments that work on affecting these specific areas in order to decrease the symptoms in a patient, including non-invasive procedures like magnetic stimulation.
Environmental factors – while the risk of developing OCD may be genetic, most cases are triggered or begin after a specific incident, or a history of abuse. Traumas, stress, physical or sexual abuse, and problems especially early on in childhood can lead to the development of OCD, and/or other disorders. OCD has also been linked to strep infections in childhood.
of the US population struggles with OCD
children are estimated to have OCD
of cases occur by age 14. Average age of onset is 19, and over a third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood
Recognize certain signs – OCD is certainly a very difficult disorder to live with, both for teens who struggle with it and their parents. While you shouldn’t focus on “managing” your teen, you should be prepared to offer them as much support as you can, and that includes identifying certain flareups in their disorder and helping them combat these symptoms. Because OCD is an anxiety disorder, it flares up the most when the person experiences a lot of stress or pressure or feels judged/criticized. Being patient with your teen can be a great help. Encourage your teen to speak up about their condition and work with you to reveal when symptoms are getting worse to prepare accordingly.
Be patient – Progress can be very slow when treating OCD, and it may not necessarily be linear. This means there may be bad days and good days, and it’s important not to vent any frustrations towards your teen. It’s understandable that you’re worried about their future, and to a degree, you may even feel annoyed by the pace at which they are recovering. Some days, it can feel like there is no progress at all. However, exuding these kinds of feelings actively worsen your teen’s condition, making them feel anxious and increasing the severity of their symptoms. This is why it is important to see to your own needs as well and ensure that you’re not inadequately managing your stress levels. Your own frustrations can easily bleed into your teen’s worries, turning the household into a ticking time bomb of anxiety.
Be supportive and focus on progress – it is fair to say that if you’re living with a teen going through a disorder as severe as OCD, it is important to learn to see the bright side of things. Encourage your teen to focus on small successes and triumphs rather than struggle to get past setbacks and dwell on depressive thoughts.
The sooner OCD is treated, the better. In general, different types of psychotherapy are used to treat OCD. Depending on the symptoms, certain medication may be prescribed as well.
A large portion of therapy is dedicated to helping teens identify obsessive thoughts, and disrupt them with certain thought exercises, affirmations, and behaviors. Therapists also work with teens to address their compulsive issues. Often this includes helping teens develop other healthier habits, habits that help deter them from performing the behaviors they usually perform.
Progress can be slow and differs from patient to patient. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular is very effective at treating OCD. OCD cannot be “cured” and is considered a chronic condition. It often reacts strongly in response to stress. However, the symptoms can be managed, and even severe cases can be, over time, treated to allow a teen to better control their thoughts and behaviors, and go on living normal lives.
Because the stress and anxiety caused from the obsessive thoughts are so overwhelming, sometimes medication is prescribed to help with certain symptoms. The goal of such medications is to serve as an aid for other forms of therapy, and most of the time, medication is considered a temporary necessity.
SSRIs are most commonly prescribed, usually at a higher dosage than typically used in the treatment of depression. Other medication may also be prescribed.
Recently approved for OCD treatment, a certain form of deep transcranial magnetic stimulation has shown promise in reducing the symptoms of OCD in patients, particularly those resistant to other types of treatment. This is achieved by directly targeting the portion of the brain that is usually noted to behave abnormally among teens with OCD.
Paradigm Malibu is focused on helping teens through individualized programs, set at wonderful, accessible locations built around parks, beaches, and other sites of nature. Each location is different, but they all offer a professional staff dedicated to treating your teen.
A Treatment-Focused Environment
OCD treatment requires a consistent scheduled program dedicated to working with a teen to identify their obsessions and compulsions, and isolate these thoughts and behaviors, allowing teens to more effectively understand and differentiate the disorder from normal thinking. Past that step, teens have to learn to regulate their thoughts and behaviors, which is a very difficult task.
A Leg Up in Social Interaction
Teen treatment at Paradigm Malibu is focused on helping small groups of teens learn to cope with their disorders and find a way forward in their own futures. Often, Paradigm Malibu uses group activities and group therapy in different settings to help teens not only discover more about their own condition, but also learn how to interact with one another in an appropriate fashion.
Children can be very blunt at times, and it’s likely that teens who struggle with certain mental health issues have been at the receiving or giving end of bullying. This can significantly stunt social development and leave teens anxious of speaking to others and interacting with people. Paradigm Malibu can help socially-anxious teens build the confidence and toolset necessary to deal with negative interactions and make friends where friends might be found.
Outstanding! I believe Paradigm saved our daughters life and taught me invaluable things about how as her mother I can best support her in her journey to healing.
Can I ever be completely cured of OCD?
Not at the time, no. As our understanding of the human brain and its quirks progresses, science and medicine may eventually find the key to completely undoing certain disorders. However, OCD treatment is more than just a stopgap before a cure arrives. OCD treatment can effectively help teens lead productive, normal lives, experience real relationships, and go on to pursue their dreams. The sooner a parent helps their teen find OCD treatment, the faster their teen can begin properly coping with the disorder.
Is OCD inherited?
There is no easy way to answer this question, because the answer would be both yes and no. OCD in the family increases the risk of developing OCD, but it never guarantees it. Furthermore, it depends how you’re related to the person who had OCD. A teen with two parents who both have OCD is much more likely to develop it than a person who had a great-grandparent with the condition, or a granduncle.
Genetic risk is inherited, but there are other factors that are involved in determining what caused OCD to begin with. None of these factors can determine severity, or the nature of the disease and its symptoms. Finally, while we do know when OCD tends to manifest (usually during a person’s teenage years), there is no clear way to indicate when it might do so. However, if caught early, it can be treated and managed much more quickly.