Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is an anxiety disorder that affects approximately 1 in every 40 adults. It also affects approximately 30% of people with tic disorders.
OCD has two main symptoms: obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that recur over and over again causing a lot of stress or anxiety and ultimately resulting in attempts to either ignore the thoughts or to try to make them go away.
Compulsions are recurring actions which have the indented purpose of preventing or reducing distress, or preventing a bad situation or event from happening.
To have OCD, a person’s obsessions and or compulsions must take an hour plus of the person’s time each day, cause extreme distress, or interfere with daily functioning in a significant way.
Tourette Canada receives lots of questions from people whose family members or friends have OCD. People tell us that they are unsure of how to help their loved one, so in this blog, we will review some possible ways to approach someone with this condition as well as things to avoid.
- Avoid participating in the rituals instead support their treatment.
What is a ritual? Well, it is basically something that the person with OCD does to try to reduce their anxiety. For people with OCD, these rituals can become “stuck” lasting for many hours at a time. The person knows that the ritual isn’t logical and doesn’t really make sense, however, they still feel like they have to do it over and over. For example, they may wash their hands over and over again in a ritualized way or check things over and over again. They may do mental rituals as well, like repeated counting in their head or repeated praying.
When your loved one has OCD, you might find that over time, you’ve started participating in these rituals. For example, a wife might buy extra laundry detergent so her husband can wash clothes over and over. Families may also play along with counting, checking or hoarding. For example, they may agree not to throw away the newspapers and items filling their living room. Rather than accommodating and participating in rituals, talk to a doctor or counsellor about how you can support treatment. Remember that making changes to what you do should be worked out with a trained professional.
- Avoid overlooking yourself and your needs while you are caring for others. Instead try to make taking care of yourself a priority too.
Cultivate your own support network, try to avoid getting isolated, set time aside for yourself and develop outside interests. You matter too. If you’re not okay, it is hard to care of someone else.
- Avoid putting off talking to the doctor if you suspect your relative or child has OCD instead seek professional medical help. Early intervention is key. Remember OCD is a treatable condition.
- Avoid making comparisons between people with and without OCD, instead try to communicate with the person in a positive, clear and direct way.
It is tempting to think or say, “well I can stop myself from checking that the door is locked/washing hands etc., why can’t you?”. This type of comparison isn’t helpful, though it is a common response. Remember OCD is a medical condition so comparing someone with OCD to someone without this condition is not accurate. Instead, try telling the family member or friend with OCD that you understand that this isn’t them, this is their OCD. Try to be patient and non-judgmental; this means avoiding personal criticism. State what you want to happen rather than focusing on past behaviours. The goal is to make the person feel accepted and understood. People without OCD usually know that their symptoms are irrational and excessive, so there isn’t a need to talk to them about logic or try to help them “reason away” their symptoms.
- Avoid talking about obsessions and compulsions like they are character flaws or quirks, instead remember that obsessions and compulsions are symptoms of a medical condition. Try to focus on other aspects of the person.
OCD symptoms are just that – symptoms. They are not who the person is, what they are good at, or all that they are. Rather than focusing on the OCD consider that the person is healthy in many other ways and has lots of other qualities and talents.
- Avoid googling and reading about OCD from any website, instead use a list of websites that are vetted by professionals.
For example, here is a list of additional resources: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/a_z_mental_health_and_addiction_information/obsessive_compulsive_disorder/obsessive_compulsive_disorder_information_guide/Pages/ocd_resources.aspx
- Avoid giving up if a person with OCD refuses treatment, instead share information about the condition and keep encouraging them in a positive way.
It is normal for the person with OCD to be worried that if they see a doctor, they will be told they are “crazy”. A person with OCD might also fear that professional help will mean that they will be forced to give up their compulsions. This can be a scary thought because for someone with OCD, these compulsions might feel necessary to live. Others might fear that the treatment won’t work, that they will fail at the therapy, or that they will end up addicted to medication. Finally, some might think that they are weak if they can’t fix the problem themselves.
As a person who is part of the support network for an individual with OCD, try to learn all you can about the condition. Reassure them that OCD is treatable and help them become more informed about treatment options. Do not try to force the person into treatment as this can make the person feel worse. Instead, try explaining that getting help is a source of great strength not a weakness. You might want to ask a professional for help yourself. Most importantly, if you think that someone you know with OCD is in danger of harming themselves or someone else, call your doctor, the police or a mental health crisis response team.
Remember, the best thing to do is to speak to a doctor or other medical professional. The above tips are not a substitute for medical advice. They are meant to provide additional information.
Van Noppen & Michele Pato. https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-family-guidelines/
Better Health Channel, Government of Victoria, AU: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Obsessive_compulsive_disorder_family_and_friends
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/a_z_mental_health_and_addiction_information/obsessive_compulsive_disorder/obsessive_compulsive_disorder_information_guide/Pages/ocd_whatis.aspx
OCD- UK: http://www.ocduk.org/ffc-advice