May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is Part 5 of a series on Mental Illness. These posts are mainly directed at helping parents understand and cope better, but everyone needs more information because one day you may know someone who struggles with one of the issues I’ve addressed.
Have you noticed your child experiencing anxiety over obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors that are causing them problems with normal, daily functioning? It can drive you nuts and try your patience. They may have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If you’ve wondered exactly what that is, this blog will give you the information you’ve been looking for. I wish I’d had it sooner.
My source is The National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org). They are an excellent resource and have many articles on OCD, in addition to support groups for the individual who struggles and for those who love them.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, involuntary thoughts, ideas, impulses or worries that run through one’s mind (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions) designed to reduce the discomfort of the obsessions. OCD is estimated to affect more than three million American adults ages 18 to 54 each year.
Anyone can develop this disorder. Many people experience these symptoms at some time, but OCD is when these feelings and behaviors persist for more than an hour every day and interfere with a person’s ability to function. Symptoms often begin in childhood or adolescence and often becomes a chronic, relapsing illness.
Symptoms: There are two major categories of OCD symptoms.
Obsessions – instructive, recurrent, irrational thoughts; unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly build up in a person’s mind. Some common ones are fear of contamination, fixation on lucky or unlucky numbers, fear of danger to oneself and others, need for symmetry or exactness, and excessive doubts.
For my daughter it was odd numbers and pushing down the bubbles on the top of disposable cups from fast food restaurants. If you didn’t let her push them all down on your cup she’d become hysterical. We wondered why she was so irrational? The individual knows these thoughts are irrational, but fears they might be true. When they try to avoid such thoughts, it creates great anxiety and can cause a panic attack.
Compulsions – repetitive rituals such as hand washing, counting, checking, hoarding, or arranging. These actions may be accompanied by a feeling of momentary relief, but a sense of satisfaction or completion is not experienced. A feeling exists that these rituals must be performed or else something bad will happen. If not performed, like with obsessions, it will cause intense anxiety and panic attacks.
While the exact cause is unknown, there is growing evidence that OCD is related to abnormal functioning in a part of the brain called the striatum. OCD is not caused by family problems or attitudes learned in childhood, such as an emphasis on cleanliness or a belief that certain thoughts are dangerous or unacceptable. If you’ve wondered about that, breathe a deep sigh of relief. It’s not your fault!
In general, a combination of medication and behavior therapy proven effective in reducing the symptoms. Several medications are used including clomipramine (Anafranil), fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), sertraline (Zoloft), and paroxetine (Paxil).
A specific type of behavioral therapy known as exposure and response prevention is also useful. In this approach, a person is deliberately and voluntarily exposed to whatever triggers their obsessive thoughts. Then they’re taught techniques to avoid performing the compulsive rituals, and instead, learn to deal with their anxiety.
Though responses to treatment varies from person to person, most people living with OCD, who are engaged in a personalized treatment plan that includes effective medication and other forms of support, find their symptoms are reduced enough to help them achieve full recovery.
Unfortunately, OCD is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed, and people living with it may attempt to hide their problems rather than seek help. However, it’s usually a chronic illness that won’t go away by itself. Therefore, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as symptoms are recognized.
Mom, dad, please don’t be dismayed or discouraged. Remember, there is help and hope is real.
I find great comfort from the Bible in the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures . . . he restores my soul . . . I will fear no evil for Thou art with me . . .
You need not despair. You’re not alone. The Good Shepherd is with you. Give Him your fears.