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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Raising awareness: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may be more prevalent than you think

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 17th 2008

man holding breathFor years mental health professionals thought this was a small issue in the general public. Now research shows us that over 3 million people in the United States alone suffer from it and it is just entering mainstream awareness. It's equally prevalent in men and women and we can notice the beginnings of it often in children and adolescents. Yes, I'm talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and it's just starting to seep into the public's awareness as a psychological issue. Do you or someone you know have it?

OCD is considered to be an anxiety disorder. If you, or someone you know, has obsessions or compulsions that are severe enough or cause you or them enough distress that interferes with daily life (socially or professionally), you may want to read on.

There are all different types of OCD. Mainly, one needs to have repetitive, negative thoughts or images (obsessions) that lead to some anxiety, fear, shame, disgust (distress) that may or may not lead to repetitive thoughts or actions (compulsions) to alleviate the distress.

You may be someone who suffers from thoughts of things being contaminated by germs, so you excessively wash and clean. Or you could worries about your safety and so you check your locks or oven over and over again. You may be someone who is very keen if the slightest thing is out of order and immediately have to put it in its place or face severe discomfort. Or maybe you just like to collect or hoard things to the point where your hallways are getting difficult to squeeze through. Potentially, you hold your breath or repeat certain words or numbers in your head in order to keep yourself or others safe from some disaster. Or maybe you have frightening images that pop into your head that you obsess about and can't seem to escape from, like stabbing a close friend or driving off a cliff.

If you identify with any of these, you are potentially dealing with an issue of OCD. The great news is you're not alone and there is good support out there for this. Often times when working with OCD we're progressively going through a process of facing things we are afraid of. This could be a great thing for anyone to do. We are all constrained and held back by our fears on a daily basis. Being able to face the discomfort of fear instead of avoiding it, allows us to break free and move toward living the lives we want. It is often best to do this with the accompaniment of a professional.

Let us know if any questions arose while reading this. Or if you or someone you care about has suffered from this and received help, what has worked for them?  Sharing your questions and comments provides others the chance to interact and learn that may help them at all. We all have wisdom to share.  

 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
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    OCD sufferers face painful ridicule - Alex - Oct 8th 2011

    This is an interesting article; I do wish that more people could be aware of what OCD sufferers are going through. I struggle tremendously with OCD and I hate it that in the media and pop culture, OCD is often made out to be a laughing matter. Take for example, the movie "As Good as it Gets" or the main character in the television program "Monk." These shows are comedic in nature and the characters' OCD symptoms/rituals are shown as spectacles for the audience's entertainment. But we are not seeing the horrible, debilitating side of OCD in these movies, and these types of shows cause people to think of OCD as a trivial disorder.

    The general public does not seem to realize that people with OCD do not enjoy the rituals that they feel they must perform. I think this is where misconceptions about OCD originate. People think of OCD as a personality-defect (such as laziness, selfishness or greediness); people do not realize that OCD sufferers often are trying to rebel against their OCD, but they cannot.  For example, my OCD centers around a fear of contamination. My friend has told me that I just need to stop "indulging" myself by disinfecting, washing and sanitizing. That is terribly frustrating because my rituals are not an indulgence! I  do not get any joy from them! They are something I must do in order to bring my extremely high anxiety levels down. The rituals feel like a requirement for survival: if you were on fire, you'd pour water on yourself to put out the flame, right? But the act of pouring water on yourself wouldn't be a fun activity. You'd pour the water because you had to do it in order to stop the pain. The same is true for OCD rituals. When I come in contact with a doorknob that is likely contaminated (a person with the flu could have touched it, a persona who didn't wash their hands after a bowel movement could have touched it, a person who just picked their nose could have touched it, a person who just packed raw meat could have touched it), I feel that I MUST (involuntarily) sanitize my hand. If I do not clean it, the anxiety that I feel is so overwhelming that I actually consider committing suicide right then and there. It's like my brain is on fire and the only way to stop the burning is to clean my hand. So the ritual is not an indulgence --  it's not fun for me and I gain no joy from it. Rather, it's like an involuntary response.

    Also, in my experience, people tend to think that I am selfish (because I am often late due to the fact that I use up so much time cleaning things) or rude (because I do not want to be touched by others -- even handshakes are a nightmare for me). But the truth is that I HATE performing my cleaning rituals and I HATE that my OCD isolates me from others. My hands are raw (the skin is always peeling off in huge sheets), I hate not being on time (it's embarrassing and I feel so guilty for wasting others' time), and it is embarrassing at work to always have to use hand sanitizer (I think my coworkers think I am a "freak" or "weirdo"). My mom got offended last Christmas because she tried to touch my cheek and I snapped at her to stop touching me. It really hurts me that I hurt her feelings; the last thing I want my mother to think is that I think she is dirty. Logically, I know she has great hygiene and I know she is clean, but the OCD part of my mind cannot accept that. When she touched my cheek I (involunatrily) kept thinking about all the doorknobs she may have touched and all the bacteria that could be transferred to my cheek -- those unwanted thoughts flooded my mind until my anxiety levels got so hight that I wanted to drive a knife through my stomach. Logically I know that everyone has this bacteria on them and that it doesn't make them sick. But my OCD prevents me from thinking logically and when she tried to touch me, it just set my brain on fire. What my mom didn't realize is that she shouldn't take it personally... I think myself is germy too. When I get home, I don't allow myself to touch anything in my house until I decontaminate myself because I do not want to contaminate anything in my house with the germs that I bring in from outside. It's horrible and I realize that it defies logic, but my anxiety gets to suicidal levels until I clean myself when I get home.

    Sorry for the long post... I'm just writing with the hope that non-OCD-sufferers will gain a deeper understanding of their pals with OCD. I can't tell you how many times I've faced ridicule because of OCD. You wouldn't laugh at someone who has cancer, would you? No, you give them sympathy because you realize that they didn't choose to have cancer. You give them sympathy because you know that they are going through a lot of pain. Then why do people laugh at OCD sufferers? Because they don't recognize OCD for the serious disorder that it is; they don't realize that OCD sufferers *did not choose* to have OCD (I'm not just a "neat freak" -- my OCD is not a reflection of my personality) and they do not realize that OCD sufferers are going through monumental amounts of pain.

    PS: If I may, I'd just like to grapple with the following sentence in your article: "Or maybe you just like to collect or hoard things to the point where your hallways are getting difficult to squeeze through." The author said that people may "like" to hoard things, but I'd argue that it is more of a compulsion, than a desire. In my experience, hoarders *have no choice* but to collect objects; it's not that they necessarily *want* all those items, but they are unable to stop themselves from hoarding.

     

    Finding support for OCD - Dr.T - Dec 29th 2008

    Hello Julie, I'm sorry to hear about your husband. OCD can be very frustrating as well as painful (even physically) to the person suffering. You mentioned that you were looking for an OCD specialist not located in the U.S. Well...this may be a bit difficult, especially if you don't have any ties to these other countries from the U.S. However, I would recommend getting in touch with those countrys' mental health services and inquiring about specialists. You can check out this website: http://www.geonius.com/ocd/ and perhaps they can guide you.

         You may also be able to contact local support centers who can then lead you to other centers in other countries. http://psychcentral.com/resources/Obsessive-Compulsive/Support_Groups/ . There is also http://psychcentral.com/resources/Psychotherapy/Treatment_Centers/ .

    Lastly, there is a resource center for mental health treatment in Mumbai, India http://www.clickindia.com/detail.php?id=113557.

    Good luck.

    OCD Specialist in Czech Republic, India or Malaysia? (Or around these countries) - Julie - Dec 29th 2008

    Hi,

    My husband is suffering frm OCD. He is 24 years old and was diagnosed since he was 16.

    Typically his obsession revolved around washing, checking on things, and sexual thoughts. His obsessions evolved according to his locations/things which he gets involved in. At one point, during the first few years of our r/ship, he was obsessed with me.

    He has been taking medications (Lexapro) continuously for abt 2-3 years now. But his situation is getting worse in terms of his sexual thoughts.

    I have been trying to get in touch with local (Malaysia) OCD Specialist, but to no avail. He is currently working in Czech Republic and we are trying to locate OCD Specialist over there. Im hoping you will be able to advice on this.

     Thank you very much

    Juliana

    Thank you! - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Dec 18th 2008

    Your insight really helps get a felt sense for the process a washer and cleaner goes through and also how it can be difficult for those around them. One thing I'd like to add is that not only does OCD lead to other phobias and anxieties, but it can also be compounded with depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders which might make it easy to overlook when we're looking at our symptoms or those of others. 

    One anxiety diagnosis can lead to another - Dr.T - Dec 18th 2008

    What's interesting about OCD and other anxiety disorders is that usually one anxiety disorder either leads to another or provides the foundation for a phobia. People who have suffered from agoraphobia usually also have generalized anxiety or some type of phobia.
         I know a few people who are very particular about germs and they are so worried about them that they will immediately make me aware of them when I've come in contact with them. They will not let me pump gas and then not wash my hands; or touch my living-room floor and then touch my hair or my face. I'm rather particular as well when it comes to germs, especially when a child or newborn has/can come in contact with them. However, there are some germs that we just couldn't live without. They help to build our immune system and to keep us safe from other harmful germs.
         Similarly, there truly is no logical way to protect oneself from all the germs in the world. When you flush, germs appear, even if you put the seat down. When you go to restaurants, there are germs just waiting for you when you sit down in the chairs, eat at the tables, and even talk to others in close proximity.
    All of this makes sense, but to one with OCD...this really doesn't matter. It's about what makes them feel "psychologically" better about their reality. Even if my friend knows she cannot rid herself of germs, she'll use Ammonia, bleach, or any antibacterial product she can find to at least feel more comfortable about her surroundings.
    Essentially, there is no way to escape the world of germs we live in. I don't blame anyone for trying...but it truly can become tiring (and maybe even stressful) for those who deal with those who are sensitive or worried about germs 24/7.

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