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Don’t think about Pink elephants…….

If you really concentrate on not thinking about pink elephants, that is all you are able to think about- pink elephants. Anyone who has had a song stuck in their head will know how frustrating it is not to be able to rid your mind of it. People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) fight this battle all day, every day, sometimes all their lives – and usually fail miserably.

It is human nature to worry about things and most of us have certain daily routines (or rituals) that we follow. But when these worries and rituals get out of control, when they infer with normal activities, the diagnosis would probably be OCD. Michael (19) of Port Elizabeth says: “I’m constantly terrified that something disastrous will happen if I step on a crack. I wall on my toes, very slowly, constantly looking back to make sure I didn’t step on any cracks. It’s exhausting and I know it’s dumb, but I can’t stop”.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that effects people of all ages, sexes, races and economic brackets. Obsessions are intrusive and, largely irrational, unwanted thoughts, images or urges that cause anxiety and/or guilt, that the person tries to resist or eliminate. Some common obsessions include: fear of contamination, fear of behaving in a socially unacceptable manner and fear of causing harm to others. Compulsions are the actions designed to suppress the obsession and provide relief, albeit temporary. They include: checking behaviour , cleaning or washing repeatedly, counting, and arranging items in perfect symmetry. Compulsions, or rituals become like an addiction with behaviour increasing and taking up more and more time. For more information and advice on OCD, contact The depression and Anxiety Support Group on (011)783-1474/6 or (011)884-1797 (8am-7pm).

In other anxiety disorders the dangerous or threatening event is external. With OCD, the danger is internal (a thought or image) and the individual with OCD tries to avoid that thought or image completely as someone with height phobia will avoid high places. For the OCD sufferer, control over the dangerous event seems so utterly hopeless that he resorts to ‘magic’ or rituals in an attempt to relieve the distress caused by obsession.

Kevin Bolon ,Johannesburg Psychologist say's "OCD is the only illness where the sufferer knows that behaviour is irrational and excessive but has to perform the action regardless”.

About three percent of the population suffers from OCD and it effects men and woman equally. Symptoms usually appear during the teen years, early adulthood, but approximately one-third of sufferers 'OCD symptoms began in childhood. People with OCD can voluntarily suppress their compulsions for a period of time as they can make them up “ later, and they tend to hide their problem rather than to seek help. Individuals with OCD often suffer from combined depression and generalized anxiety.

Fortunately, OCD is treatable. Untreated, OCD symptoms can vary with intensity and may vanish for a time. However, symptoms return and treatment is advisable – most individuals who undergo therapy are able to resist their obsessions and compulsions and regain control over their lives. The longer the delay in seeking treatment, the more ingrained the obsessive-compulsive habits become and therefore, the chances of a full recovery are reduced. However, with treatment, OCD sufferers can finally banish those ‘pink elephants’ forever.