What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Do you have unwanted thoughts or images coming into your mind that you find hard to dismiss (such as something terrible happening)? You possibly find these experiences upsetting and wish you could stop them happening, but it feels as though you can’t.
Perhaps you find yourself having to check things over and over again (such as door locks or gas taps). Do you have to keep doing certain things, like washing your hands?
This pattern describes somebody with a condition called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). You are not alone; this affects about 3% of people.
You are not ‘mad’ either. Most people get unwanted thoughts or feelings at times. The thing about OCD is the way these things happen such a lot that you can’t get on with your life.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for OCD.
The two main problem areas for OCD people are:
- A lot of worrying unwanted thoughts, such as “I might catch a disease”
- Urges that you don’t like, such as thinking you might harm someone
- Mental pictures, such as something terrible happening.
Worries about dirt or illness are very common and may make you feel anxious. This might lead you to do things to make you feel better.
Unfortunately, some people with OCD may become depressed.
Compulsions or rituals
These are the things you feel you have to do. There are usually two kinds, visible and internal.
Examples of visible rituals are:
- Cleaning – for so long that it stops you 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:
- Making yourself have a ‘good thought’ such as your feared event not happening
- Repeating certain words or phrases in your head.
Everyone may show some of these behaviours at times. You are said to have OCD if the behaviours are constant, troubling and intense. You 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 your life as a student?
If you already know you have OCD before you come to university, the stress of starting a degree course might make your problems worse. For some people, the difficulties begin after they arrive.
At university, you might 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.
You may try to avoid people or places that you think are ‘unsafe’, and this has a bad effect on your social life.
Where does OCD come from?
One positive aspect of the OCD personality is setting yourself high standards, but the problem comes from taking this to extremes. You might be a ‘perfectionist’ who wants to succeed 100% with everything you do. It is good to feel a sense of responsibility for other people, but again this becomes a problem if you start to feel responsible for things which are actually beyond your control. This kind of thing is often caused by events that have happened in the past.
Sources of further information
You can find out more about OCD at:
www.ocdyouth.info (a site for younger people, but very user-friendly)
What you can do about OCD at university
Your university should be responsive to the needs of students with OCD, both because it is morally obliged to and (in many countries) because disability legislation obliges it to.
There are effective treatments available for OCD. Your university Mental Health Co-ordinator (or someone with a similar title) can advise on available options and help you to access services. He or she will probably be available through the Counselling service.
Treatment for OCD often involves:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This consists of changing thought patterns and behaviours in a systematic way
- Medication – usually anti-depressants. These have been found to be effective even if you are not clinically depressed.
OCD does not have to run your life. You can take control over it!