Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health problem that can disrupt your life, but it can be treated. It falls under the category of anxiety disorders, but it comes with some unique symptoms. OCD involves obsessions that are characterized by unwanted intrusive thoughts that are difficult to ignore. These thoughts may be actively resisted, though they can be difficult to control. These obsessive thoughts are followed by compulsive actions that are called “rituals.” They’re often done to placate obsessive thoughts.
For instance, you may have the thought that you didn’t wash your hands properly even though you already washed them. You may not be able to stop thinking about it until you go through the ritual of washing your hands in a specific way, perhaps multiple times. Obsessions and compulsions may be normal thoughts and behaviors for many people, but they can become a disorder when those things start to disrupt your life in a significant way. If you rewash your hands once, you may not have OCD, but if you wash your hands many times until you’re late for work, you may have a problem.
OCD can start to affect your life and get out of control when it’s left untreated. However, it is treatable in several different methods.
OCD with Other Mental Health Problems
OCD can cause or worsen other mental health issues. Generalized anxiety is a separate diagnosis from OCD, but it can happen at the same time as OCD. The most common co-occurring mental health issue with OCD is depression. As OCD starts to get in the way of living your life, it can leave you with feelings of shame, worthlessness, and despair. Depression can also be caused by other factors and then worsened by OCD.
Another common issue to occur alongside OCD is an eating disorder. OCD and eating disorders can interact so that food-related obsessions and compulsions drive both issues. OCD symptoms may surround food, body, image, or exercise. This can worsen both issues simultaneously. Similarly, OCD can occur alongside self-harm. Self-harm is often unrelated to suicidal thoughts, though it may progress to suicide. Instead, self-harm is often seen as a release from confusion and uncontrollable emotions or thoughts. Obsessions and rituals may surround self-harm, or self-harm may be a method to seek relief from OCD symptoms.
OCD may also occur alongside substance use issues. Addictions often develop through drug misuse, a method of dealing with another mental health issue. Alcohol is common in self-medication, which is using a substance to mask uncomfortable symptoms without consulting a doctor. Alcohol, and other drugs, may lead to temporary relief like numbing obsessive thoughts, but it leads to more complications. Like OCD, addiction has the ability to take over your life, leading to medical and psychological health problems, relationship issues, and social problems.
Florida Mental Health Statistics
Obsessive-compulsive disorder isn’t as widespread as generalized anxiety, but it does affect around 2.2 million people in the United States. That accounts for around 1.0% of the population. Unlike other mental health issues, OCD seems to affect men and women at the same or similar rates. It’s common for you to experience your first OCD symptoms around age 19, but around a third of people experience their first symptoms as children.
Florida has a significant mental health problem. Around 3.8% of people struggle with a severe mental health issue like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression. Even more struggle with general anxiety and other mental health issues. Only a minority percentage of Floridians that have mental health issues gets any kind of mental health treatment, around 36.3%.
How is OCD Diagnosed?
OCD is identified by a set of symptoms that are outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). OCD is characterized by a combination of thinking and actions that disrupt your life. The first factor is unwanted obsessive thoughts. These thoughts will be recurrent and persistent, but they will not be enjoyed. This is in contrast to obsessive thoughts about hobbies, work you enjoy, or entertainment. OCD causes distressing obsessive thoughts rather than things that consistently occupy your mind that you enjoy. In most people, obsessive thoughts that are caused by OCD can cause anxiety or distress.
The compulsive component of OCD is identified by repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to do to alleviate obsessive thoughts. These compulsions can be physical, like washing your hands, or mental, like counting. The compulsive actions are done in an attempt to ease anxious thoughts or obsessions. Obsessive thoughts may convince you that not doing a compulsive ritual would lead to a dangerous or disastrous outcome, and only by completing the ritual can this outcome be avoided.
It’s important to note that OCD is not psychosis. In other words, it’s not a break from reality. Some that are experiencing psychotic symptoms may have obsessive thoughts that lead to actions, but the person truly believes that the unreal situation that’s driving them. They have trouble discerning reality and imagined scenarios. People that struggle with OCD symptoms know that their obsessive thoughts and compulsions are illogical and may not line up with reality. Still, their compulsions are difficult to control, even though they can recognize reality.
There are some other qualifiers to OCD too. These obsessive-compulsive episodes will take at least an hour of your time each day, or they will be severe enough to cause clinically significant impairment in social situations, at work, or at school. As with all mental health diagnoses, the final qualification is that your symptoms can’t be better explained by another mental health problem or a chemical substance.
How is OCD Treated?
OCD can be treated with several different methods, including medications and psychotherapy. One of the leading methods to treat OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is used in treating a variety of mental and behavioral health issues. It involves addressing thinking patterns and how they relate to behaviors. It can also help you manage emotions and your response to daily challenges, triggers, and intrusive thoughts. CBT also helps to identify things that may trigger OCD symptoms so you can prepare effective coping responses to avoid negative outcomes. In OCD, CBT may help you to challenge illogical or irrational intrusive thoughts and cope with them without needing to go through disruptive rituals.
CBT may also involve elements of exposure therapy, where you work through real-life or imagined situations that may cause OCD symptoms with your therapist. Exposure therapy can desensitize you to triggers you may encounter through the course of your day. It can also allow you to test your learned coping skills against triggers.
Group therapy can also help people with OCD connect with other people that have gone through similar struggles. Group therapy involves encouragement, a feeling of solidarity, and dispels feelings of isolation. It can also help you find practical ways to manage OCD in the real world by learning from other people that have gone through it.
Medication may be used to treat OCD. Anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytics) can be used to manage anxiety symptoms and to calm racing obsessive thoughts. Benzodiazepines are a common class of anti-anxiety medication. Other medications can be used to treat issues that are commonly seen alongside OCD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants that can be used to treat depression and anxiety symptoms. While medications can be useful, it’s important to note that there is no magic pill that works for everyone right away. Work with your doctor to find the right dose and medications for your needs. Medications may also be combined with psychotherapy to achieve the best results.
How to Find OCD Treatment in Florida
To get help with OCD or other mental health issues, you can start by speaking with your family doctor or general practitioner. They can help diagnose your symptoms or connect you with a specialist who can help. You may get a referral to a psychiatrist or another mental health professional. Many doctors may start with short-term therapeutic medications. These can be helpful, but if you’re interested in psychotherapy or other options, ask your doctor about other things that can help. You can also call local therapists or mental health treatment centers to ask about your options. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a list of Florida-based mental health resources that might be able to help.
Quick Treatment Facts
Treatment should be personalized to your needs. While there may be many people that are going through similar challenges that you are, each case is unique. You may have different underlying issues, unique experiences, and different co-occurring issues than the next person.
Treatment should also address multiple issues, including medical needs and co-occurring mental health problems. If OCD is treated but other serious problems are ignored, your progress may be inhibited. OCD may feed off of other problems that need to be addressed at the same time.