Heather Sequeira on understanding OCD

On 14 June, a House of Commons debate on mental health was held. It saw Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, talk openly about his personal experiences of living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Here, Dr Heather Sequeira, a Chartered Psychologist, writes about the effects of this disorder and how it can be treated.

Most people have some concern for personal hygiene, domestic security and protecting others from harm. But what if you find yourself consumed with worries and doubts? And what if you spend two hours in the bath or repeatedly return to your door to check that it is locked, or keep thinking that you could hurt someone in an accident or even on purpose?

These are symptoms of an anxiety disorder called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD. This very common and treatable condition occurs when people are concerned with unwanted and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and feel driven to repeat certain behaviours (compulsions) over and over again.

At its worse, OCD can become as damaging to a person’s quality of life as schizophrenia and indeed, is listed by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 most disabling illnesses in terms of lost income and diminished quality of life.

Most people with OCD feel a huge amount of shame. Although many try to keep the problem hidden from friends and family, the problem frequently disrupts a person’s family life and personal relationships and can affect a person’s ability to work and study. Around 2% of the population suffer with OCD with a roughly equal split between men and women. OCD affects both adults and children.

OCD used to be regarded as a very difficult condition to treat. In recent years however, this has changed. With Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT, people with OCD learn new ways to respond to intrusive thoughts, worries and fear without doing rituals. A specific method, called Exposure and Response prevention is an essential important part of this therapy. Exposure therapy and Response prevention allows a person to face their fears in a safe way, bit by bit, without doing compulsions.

Gradually, people get stronger at dealing with obsessions and compulsions so that they do not have to interfere with the quality of your life. If you think you may have OCD, don’t be ashamed and don’t delay seeking help. Although CBT can help at any stage, OCD is like most problems, and best if you can deal with it earlier rather than later.

Dr Sequeira specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You can find out more about this on her website.

All the speeches from the mental health debate are on the They Work for You website.