In honour of OCD Awareness Week this week (9 – 15 October 2016), we thought it would be great to share some helpful information about this often misunderstood illness. OCD is an extremely debilitating illness, causing great suffering worldwide, including South Africa.
The term “I am/you are so OCD” has become part of everyday language and it seems to be something we hear regularly. The term is often used to describe someone who likes things to be 'neat', 'clean', and/or 'in order'. However, despite this term being thrown around, many people do not know what it really is and how severely devastating it can be for an individual who has a diagnosis of OCD.
Clinical Psychologist, Shai Friedland says: “Many individual’s diagnosed with OCD may have intrusive thoughts around cleanliness and contamination and therefore may clean/wash themselves and or their possessions. These individuals may also have intrusive thoughts about orderliness and may therefore keep certain possessions in a particular order (e.g. keeping pens lined up in a perfectly straight line). But this is truly only rubbing the surface of OCD and for many individuals their OCD symptoms expand beyond just wanting to be 'neat', 'clean', and/or have their possessions 'in order'. Often individuals portraying symptoms of OCD experience severe levels of anxiety, begin to spend hours a day on their intrusive thoughts and rituals, and their overall functioning, whether with regards to relationships, studies, and or work, begins to decline. “
The above can sound quite dramatic, especially to someone who has not experienced OCD. It is important to note that an individual suffering from OCD may have intrusive thoughts, images, or urges which may sometimes be strange and illogical, yet they will be compelled to act out these urges and compulsions in an attempt to minimise their high levels of anxiety, and to neutralise their obsessive thoughts. It helps to keep in mind that the vast majority of OCD sufferers are fully aware of the irrational nature of their obsessions and compulsions, and this only adds to their levels of stress, anxiety, and feelings of confusion and shame. For many OCD suffers the need to complete a specific compulsion is linked to a belief that completing this action (such as washing your hands) will somehow protect loved ones or prevent bad things from happening. This means that many OCD sufferers will go to great extents to complete a ritual or action to avoid becoming responsible for tragic events. It is easier to heed the compulsions than live with the responsibility of bringing harm to others. It becomes clear then that OCD is not a fun to have quirk, but an illness that causes great emotional and physical distress.
OCD Awareness Week is important as it helps to increase understanding about OCD, and aims to spread knowledge to sufferers and the general public alike. It is the hope that with more education about the topic, acceptance and understanding will rise, and people experiencing OCD symptoms may finally start to become aware of what exactly they are going through.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that an individual with OCD needs to live with these severe symptoms for the rest of their lives. According to Shai Friedland, “There is treatment available for individuals suffering from OCD. It would be advisable to speak to your GP, psychiatrist, or your psychologist to find out more about your treatment options. Research indicates that the most effective form of treatment for OCD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and in particular Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP). Medication may also be advised and prescribed by a psychiatrist. “
For more help or referrals to professionals and resources, call a counsellor at The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 21 22 23 or visit www.sadag.org
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