So what is OCD?

Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts, causing immense anxiety and anguish, often followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges.

For many people that suffer with and live with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), life can be a lonely isolating place, and can leave the sufferer totally disabled and at the mercy of their unwanted intrusive thoughts; severely impacting on their work, relationships and careers, which may come as a surprise to many when thinking of OCD.


In general, the obsessions that a person with OCD will experience generally fall into the category of persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, images, impulses, worries, fears and doubts (or a combination of these). Additionally they are intrusive, unwanted, disturbing and significantly interfere with normal life, making them incredibly difficult to ignore.


When someone is affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder the natural response is to fight these horrible obsessional thoughts with purposeful mental or physical rituals and behaviours – the compulsions. Compulsions are the repetitive physical behaviours and actions, or mental thought rituals, that are performed over and over again, in an attempt to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessional thoughts.

12 in every 1000 people are likely to suffer with OCD!

The illness affects as many as 12 in every 1000 people (1.2% of the population) from young children to adults, regardless of gender or social or cultural background. In fact, it can be so debilitating and disabling that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has actually ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life.

Based on current estimates for the UK population, there are potentially around 741,504 people living with OCD at any one time. But it is worth noting that a disproportionately high number, 50% of all these cases, will fall into the severe category meaning severe impairment, with less than a quarter being classed as mild cases.

OCD, more than you think!

OCD presents itself in many guises, and certainly goes far beyond the common perception that OCD is merely hand washing or checking light switches. In general, OCD sufferers experience obsessions which take the form of persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, images, impulses, worries, fears or doubts. They are often intrusive, unwanted, disturbing, significantly interfere with the ability to function on a day-to-day basis as they are incredibly difficult to ignore. People with OCD often realise that their obsessional thoughts are irrational, but they believe the only way to relieve the anxiety caused by them is to perform compulsive behaviours, often to prevent perceived harm happening to themselves or, more often than not, to a loved one.

There is an average of seven to 12 years before people seek help for OCD. Because the average age of onset is in people’s early 20′s this can mean that the vital years of education, careers and friendship groups can be lost to OCD. Treatment is effective but hard to access.

OCD is diagnosed when the obsessions and compulsions:
• Consume excessive amounts of time
• Cause significant distress and anguish
• Interfere with daily functioning at home, school or work, including social activities and family life and relationships.


OCD is not what you think!

To some degree OCD-type symptoms are probably experienced at one time or another by most people, especially in times of stress where they have succumbed to the seemingly nonsensical need to perform an odd and often unrelated behaviour pattern. However, OCD itself can have a totally devastating impact on a person’s entire life, from education, work and career enhancement, to social life and personal relationships.

The key difference that segregates little quirks, often referred to by people as being ‘a bit OCD’, from the actual disorder is when the distressing and unwanted experience of obsessions and compulsions impacts to a significant level upon a person’s everyday functioning – this represents a principal component in the clinical diagnosis of Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder.

Facts about OCD

  • At least 1% of people will experience OCD as a severe and disabling condition at some point in their life; for those affected it will disable them in most if not all areas of their life.
  • The average age of onset of the disorder is around 20 years old, but on average it takes between seven and 12 years before the person seeks help and OCD is diagnosed; it takes even longer to get any treatment, let alone effective treatment. This period is crucial to a person’s life, and the human cost of not getting the problem dealt with effectively is colossal.
  • In most cases, appropriate treatment delivered properly in a timely way will improve or resolve the problem, allowing the person to get on with their life. Mostly however, treatment is not offered in a timely way, is not delivered properly, or is not appropriate.
  • When they first experience OCD people are often terrified about what is happening and develop serious concerns about what it means; for example, feeling that they are going mad, that they are a bad person, that they may cause harm and so on.
  • Even when they eventually seek help (at the moment in less than 30% of cases), most sufferers find it difficult to get to appropriate treatment because (a) most health professionals are insufficiently well informed about OCD, and (b) there are too few specialist therapists with the level of expertise to treat OCD, so most are offered self-help treatments which don’t help them and simply give up.

For more information about Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder please visit the OCD-UK website