I think I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

(1) Dear Alice,

I think I might have OCD. I worry about it a lot and I want to go to a doctor, but I am too afraid. Can you please tell me the symptoms of OCD. Thank you.

— Not sure

(2) Dear Alice,

I think I might have OCD. Since I was about 12 or 13, I started thinking really strange thoughts. I always felt like there were eyes watching me. I know its irrational to think such a thing, and I know there aren't any, but I get this weird feeling there are. I have to cover my windows in dark colored papers and check for any holes in them regularly, so there isn't the tiniest hole for someone to peek through. I have shades as well, but I never feel like they're enough. I also have to regularly make sure my windows are locked, sometimes I'll lock and relock them a couple times until it feels like the lock worked. The same with my bedroom door, I will not sleep at night if my door is unlocked, and sometimes I relock it more than once, or even reclose my door more than once. It doesn't always feel like it properly shut the first time. I also have to turn any faces away from me. My stuffed animals can't look in my direction, and I wont hang pictures up in my room if it feels like it has eyes on it. I'm not scared of eyes necessarily, I know some people with beautiful eyes. I just can't take them staring at me. I also know they wont hurt me, either, but it feels as if somehow they will. I don't know how.

I'm really feeling like I might be going crazy. I'm stressed out beyond belief! Should I bring it up with my doctor? Should I get a therapist? Could this be OCD?

— Emma

Dear Not sure,

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a mental condition affecting about 3.3 million Americans or about 2.3 percent of the adult population. People with OCD are plagued by persistent, unwanted thoughts, called obsessions, and the need to perform complex rituals, known as compulsions. Some of these rituals include checking to see if the door is locked, counting things repeatedly, or washing one's hands over and over. The need to perform rituals interrupts and interferes with daily activities. Performing these rituals offers temporary relief from intrusive obsessions, such as worrying that the door has been left open, or feeling that one's hands are filthy or contaminated. Being unable to perform these rituals creates intense feelings of anxiety and discomfort.

It is unclear wh a person develops OCD. New research suggests that OCD may be related to atypical functioning of the circuitry in a part of the brain called the striatum. Treatment for OCD, a combination of behavioral therapy aimed at reducing the need to perform rituals, along with anti-depressant medication, seems to make a difference.

If you think you might have OCD, it is important to take note of your behaviors. Often people with OCD have vivid, unwanted thoughts about hurting others, or doing some other dangerous or inappropriate thing. Sometimes people who have these thoughts are so ashamed or embarrassed that they are afraid to speak of them, even to their health care providers or close friends. They feel as if they are the only ones to ever experience these sorts of compulsions, and that no one else would be able to understand. It's important to remember that these sorts of thoughts are common among people with OCD, and that thinking about hurtful things does not mean that they will actually do these things.

Although it may be difficult to talk about your issues, seeking professional help may be your best bet. Only your fear is preventing you from getting the diagnosis you need (whether or not it's OCD), and subsequently, the right treatment plan. Perhaps you can start with your own health care provider, someone you have known, if you have one. S/he may not be able to diagnose you, but s/he can help create trust and provide a competent referral to a mental health professional. Working with a mental health professional who has experience with diagnosing and treating OCD, and possibly medication, can help you feel more comfortable and more effective in your life.

For more information, support, or help in finding a mental health provider in your area familiar with OCD, check out the International OCD Foundation, an international not-for-profit group of people with OCD and related disorders, their friends and families, and professionals and other concerned individuals.

Last updated Jun 01, 2015
Originally published Feb 27, 2003

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