Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

1.2% of U.S. adults experience OCD each year.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions). Although people with OCD may know that their thoughts and behavior don’t make sense, they are often unable to stop them.

Symptoms and Diagnosing OCD

Most people have occasional obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. In an obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, these symptoms generally last more than an hour each day and interfere with daily life. Symptoms typically begin during childhood, the teenage years or young adulthood, although males often develop them at a younger age than females.

  • To be diagnosed with OCD, a person must have:
    Obsessions, compulsions or both
  • Obsessions or compulsions that are upsetting and cause difficulty with work, relationships, other parts of life and typically last for at least an hour each day

About Obsessions: Obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts or impulses that repeatedly occur. People with these disorders know these thoughts are irrational but are afraid that somehow they might be true. These thoughts and impulses are upsetting, and people may try to ignore or suppress them.

Examples of obsessions include:

  • Thoughts about harming or having harmed someone
  • Doubts about having done something right, like turning off the stove or locking a door
  • Unpleasant sexual images
  • Fears of saying or shouting inappropriate things in public

About Compulsions: Compulsions are repetitive acts that temporarily relieve the stress brought on by an obsession. People with these disorders know that these rituals don’t make sense but feel they must perform them to relieve the anxiety and, in some cases, to prevent something bad from happening. Like obsessions, people may try not to perform compulsive acts but feel forced to do so to relieve anxiety.
Examples of compulsions include:

  • Hand washing due to a fear of germs
  • Counting and recounting money because a person can’t be sure they added correctly
  • Checking to see if a door is locked or the stove is off
  • “Mental checking” that goes with intrusive thoughts is also a form of compulsion

Treatments and Support for Those Living With OCD and Their Families

There is no cure for OCD, but it can be treated effectively. Treatments for OCD include therapy, use of medications, and exercise.

We also recommend our NAMI support groups and classes for those living with mental health conditions, as well as their families and loved ones; find a local support group run by a California affiliate.

Find out more on NAMI National’s website.

Community Voices

“The Messy Truth About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (NAMI National blog)

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is Not a Joke” (NAMI National blog)

“My OCD Confession” (NAMI National blog)

“What It’s Really Like to ‘Be So OCD’ “ (NAMI National blog)

More stories and posts about living with or being impacted by OCD coming soon. Telling personal stories of recovery can be one of the most effective ways to diminish stigma and help individuals and families who are facing challenges related to mental health conditions. Submit your story for consideration.