We all have habits of some description, such as having to double check the front door is locked or making sure the TV is unplugged from the wall before going to bed.
For people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these habits 'take over' and begin to seriously impact on their quality of life.
Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, ideas, urges, impulses or worries that run through the person's mind over and over again. Often the ideas do not make any sense, or are unpleasant or opposite to the person's values or beliefs. They are accompanied by fear, guilt, worry, sadness or anxiety.
Common obsessions include:
• repeated impulses to kill someone you love (even though that is the last thing you'd want to do in reality);
• worries about dirt, germs, contamination and infection;
• recurrent thoughts that something has not been done properly, even though you know it has;
• fear about losing something important;
• fear about being responsible for keeping someone safe/preventing harm;
• ideas that certain things must be in a certain place.
Compulsions or rituals are repeated behaviours or mental actions that are used to reduce anxiety or discomfort caused by an obsession. The purpose or intention behind a ritual is to ease or reduce a person's anxiety/worry. Most people recognise that these rituals are excessive but still feel compelled to do them in a particular way, according to their own rules, like checking the car door six times.
Common rituals are: hand washing, showering, cleaning, touching certain objects, repeating an action to undo a thought or image, placing things in a particular order, collecting items, repeating certain phrases, exchanging a 'good' thought for a 'bad' one. Compulsions may occur only now and then, or they may take up many hours every day.
OCD is often a long-term condition that fluctuates over time. The person with OCD may go to great lengths to hide the problem so that the disorder goes unnoticed, even by family members. However, when the symptoms start to impact on different aspects of a person's life, sometimes becoming their major life activity, OCD becomes difficult to conceal.