How to Support Someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or commonly referred to as OCD, is a mental health illness which involves repetitive and disturbing thoughts, images, or urges/obsessions that intrude a person’s mind. These unwanted thoughts or obsessions cause a great deal of stress, anxiety and discomfort, which the person affected then tries to reduce by means of adopting repetitive behaviours or mental compulsions.
Obsessive compulsive disorder can occur in both adults and children, with most patients developing their first symptoms before reaching the age of thirty. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, obsessive compulsive disorder affected 1.2% of adults in the United States in the past year. As of now, obsessive compulsive disorder currently affects approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the U.S.
Obsessive compulsive disorder tends to involve some sort of fear, whether it is fear of harm, fear that something’s not going to work out, or fear that something bad is going to happen. Common compulsive behaviours and/or thoughts that may occur as a result of certain obsessions include handwashing, excessive cleaning and number counting. These forms of behaviour or rituals are carried out in an attempt to calm the obsessive thoughts and reduce feelings of anxiety.
How Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Affects a Person
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a disorder that is comprised of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions refer to the repetitive and specific, negative and fearful thoughts that cause some persons anxiety. They are the thoughts, impulses, or images that come into your head, and no matter how hard you try to block them out, they still don’t go away. These thoughts are very distressing and can make you feel scared, guilty or anxious.
On the other hand, compulsions refer to the behaviours, actions and routines performed by the affected person with the intent to relieve oneself from the anxiety associated with their unwanted, repetitive and intrusive thoughts. Compulsions can be anything you do in order to prevent the unwanted thoughts from coming true or to take away the fear created by your intrusive thoughts. Compulsions can be visible behaviours, such as checking, washing, the need for symmetry, needing to have things lined up or in an even fashion, or they can be things you do in your mind that no one can see, such as praying, counting or repeating words silently.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a complex disorder that can affect different people in different ways. Obsessions and compulsions can cause tremendous anguish and distress, take up a lot of a sufferer’s time, and can interfere with his/her daily life and personal relationships. Obsessive compulsive disorder in some cases is linked to other conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette’s and even depression and anxiety. Severe forms of obsessive compulsive disorder can be very debilitating.
Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
If you suspect that someone you know is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, chances are he/she is feeling and/or experiencing any of the following signs and symptoms listed below.
Signs and symptoms of obsessions include:
- fear of contamination or dirt
- needing things orderly and symmetrical
- aggressive impulses or horrific images about harming yourself or hurting someone you love
- undesirable thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects
- repeated unwanted ideas
- avoidance of particular situations that can cause obsessions, such as handshaking
- persistent sexual thoughts
- thoughts that you might be harmed
- thoughts about shouting obscenities that make him/her uncomfortable, and
- recurring thoughts that you might cause others harm.
Signs and symptoms of compulsions include:
- non-stop checking (such as the stove or door locks)
- constant counting
- silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase
- following a strict routine
- repeated cleaning of one or more items
- repeatedly washing (e.g. hands) until his/her skin becomes raw
- arranging items to face a certain way
- orderliness, and
- demanding reassurances.
Things You Can Do to Support Someone Suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Educate Yourself About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
It’s only after you’ve learned something about obsessive compulsive disorder that you can begin to authentically realise the struggles of a person suffering from it.
You can be in a better position to help and support someone you love battling with obsessive compulsive disorder when you understand its signs and symptoms, as well as different coping strategies and treatment modalities available. Equipping yourself with this information not only prepares you to be able to intelligently and kindly respond when the disorder affects your loved one, but can also enhance your ability to adapt to the person’s changing behaviour.
Learning everything you can about the disorder is one of the most genuine things you can do for the person you love suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, because when you are informed, it is easy to sympathise and understand the needs and struggles of the patient.
Most people suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder encounter intense fear of something terrible happening to themselves or others, have constant doubts about their behaviour, and frequently seek reassurance from others. If you have taken the time to learn about obsessive compulsive disorder and how distressing obsessions and compulsions are for your loved one, you’ll more easily be able to determine when your understanding is needed. This creates a safe and healthy environment, essential for a person battling with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Gain Awareness of Personal Triggers
Part of being a supportive loved one to a person with obsessive compulsive disorder entails learning (i) everything that triggers his/her signs and symptoms of the disorder, and (ii) being mindful of the behaviours and activities you and they are engaging in, and how these behaviours/activities may affect their mental wellbeing. For example, if your loved one is overcome with the need to wash their hands repeatedly over the course of the day, you may note that touching certain objects and/or venturing out into public places are personal triggers.
It is very important to note, however, that altogether preventing an activity or situation that your loved one fears from occurring may feed his/her OCD. Although understanding what triggers your loved one’s compulsive behaviours and rituals may be a good starting point when it comes to supporting them through their recovery, seeking professional help is essential when it comes to progressively managing exposure to their personal OCD triggers.
Get Involved in the Recovery Process
Living with someone who has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder can undeniably make your life challenging in some cases, but this does not mean that you cannot live a normal and productive day-to-day life. Like any mental health illness, managing obsessive compulsive disorder requires day-to-day coping strategies in order to make the recovery process easier, not only for the sufferer, but also their close family and friends.
It is important to be as patient and understanding as you can. Let your loved one know that their journey is your journey too and that you are willing to stick with them throughout the entire healing process. Continue to check up on them and ask how they are feeling and managing and support them in their treatment. A person suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder deals with consistent fear that an impending danger shall occur, and having someone to support them and reassure them (within reason) that they are safe is of great assistance in the recovery process. Reassurance over time that everything is going to be OK can help your loved one to experience calming and comforting thoughts, helping to reduce their need to resort to their compulsive behaviours.
Persuade Him/Her to Seek Professional Help
It’s hard to watch someone you care about struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. If a loved one has been battling and feeling some or all of the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, gently encourage them to reach out for professional help as soon as possible, and help get them on their way to reducing the mental and emotional pain they have been dealing with.
One does not have to be an expert in the field of mental health in order to be a strong support system for someone who is struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder. Apart from gaining knowledge about the signs and symptoms of the illness, it also helps to be aware of the treatment options available for obsessive compulsive disorder, so together you can identify which options are right for your loved one.
Indeed, it is difficult to conquer the recurring thoughts and fears associated with obsessive compulsive disorder. More often than not, the reassuring love and support of family and friends, though helpful, is not enough to alleviate the anxiety and other internal struggles one suffers with in regards to this mental health illness. Hence, it is imperative to seek the experience of a mental health professional, as they best understand how to help someone get back on his/her feet.
If you suspect that you or someone close to your heart is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, do not hesitate to contact our caring team at Brain Wellness Spa. The healing process may not be an easy journey but the positive results will definitely outweigh all the roadblocks you’ll encounter along the way.