Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
I n f o r m a t i o n F o r S t a f f
This text will use medical terminology to describe obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) because it is usually described using medical terms. We do not deny that some brains are maybe more predisposed to having OCD.
The causes of OCD are not totally agreed upon. Some people say that OCD is just a symptom of an underlying anxiety disorder, because if the anxiety is removed the OCD fades away (www.uk.ocd.org). Others believe OCD to be a stand-alone disorder. It does seem that OCD is closely related to anxiety and stress.
The main treatments used for obsessive compulsive disorder are cognitive behavioural therapy, and medication. These are often used together, although they can be used individually. Other successful treatments include hypnotherapy and counselling.
The two main problem areas for OCD people are:
- A lot of worrying unwanted thoughts, such as “I might catch a disease”
- Urges that they don’t like, such as thinking they might harm someone
- Mental pictures, such as something terrible happening.
Worries about dirt or illness are very common and may make people with OCD feel anxious. This may lead them to do things which make them feel better. Unfortunately, some people with OCD may become depressed.
Compulsions or rituals
These are the things individuals with OCD feel they have to do. There are usually two kinds, visible and internal.
Examples of visible rituals are:
- Cleaning – for so long that it stops the person getting on with things.
- Checking – doing things a certain number of times or in a fixed order, until it ‘feels right’.
Examples of internal rituals are:
- Generating thoughts of the feared event not happening.
- Repeating certain words or phrases in their head.
Everyone may show some of these behaviours at times. People are said to have OCD if the behaviours are constant, troubling and intense. Individuals may have problems with social relationships as well as with educational achievement. OCD is not the result of diet, drug abuse or life-style. It can lead to depression and concern about your mental state, but it is part of the diversity of human beings.
How might OCD affect a student?
The stress of starting a degree course might make a students problems worse. For some people, the difficulties begin after they arrive. OCD is closely related to anxiety, so an OCD student may feel timid, shy and nervous. They may also avoid stressful situations. It should be important to try and make learning environments as stress free as possible.
At University, students may experience:
- Fears about the cleanliness of your hall of residence or flat
- Severe anxiety about failing your assignments or exams
- Feeling the need to check and re-check your written work
- Reading the same paragraph over and over again.
- Arriving late because of the need to complete rituals before leaving their accommodation. (A student may need to keep returning to check if they have locked the door, or turned the oven off.)
- Avoiding situations, people or places that they think are ‘unsafe’ and stressful. This can have a bad effect on their social life.
How you can help OCD student.
- Encourage students to contact you and discuss any impairment they might have. You could make an announcement at the beginning of the module asking students to contact you if they feel they have any impairments. Remember, OCD students may feel a little nervous or embarrassed to initiate any discussion about it.
- Devise a working strategy with the student that takes into consideration their needs and the requirements of the course.
- Provide encouragement and feedback.
- Allow for extra time in coursework and exams. Students with OCD can sometimes feel that they need to read paragraphs several times, or re-read their work numerous times.
- Allow for absences and lateness due to rituals or unexpected delays resulting in more obsessions or rituals.
- Allow student to perform rituals without drawing attention to them, i.e. student may have to do something a certain number of times before they can relax enough to learn.
- An OCD student may feel shy or anxious. Try not to put them on the spot.
- Student may sometimes need to leave the room.
Other Resources on OCD