October 8th-14th is OCD Awareness Week

OCD Awareness Week is an annual international event observed during the second week of October to raise awareness about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), educate people about the condition, and combat stigma surrounding it. The aim is to provide support and resources to individuals affected by OCD and their families, and promote understanding and recognition of the disorder.

OCD is characterized by recurring intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that the person feels compelled to perform.

There are several subtypes of OCD including:

  • Contamination OCD: obsessions primarily revolve around the fear of being contaminated by germs, dirt, chemicals, or other substances. Compulsions involve excessive cleaning, washing, or avoidance behaviors.
  • Harm OCD: obsessions are related to causing harm to oneself or others. Individuals experience intense anxiety, guilt, and shame because of these distressing thoughts, even though they recognize that the thoughts are irrational and not aligned with their true intentions or values. As a result, they may engage in compulsive behaviors to reduce their anxiety and prevent the feared harm from occurring.
  • Checking OCD: characterized by persistent and distressing obsessions related to uncertainty or doubt. Individuals experience intrusive thoughts, fears, or doubts that something terrible will happen as a result of a specific action or omission. To alleviate these fears and reduce their anxiety, they engage in compulsive checking behaviors.
  • Hoarding OCD: characterized by the persistent difficulty in parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value or usefulness. Individuals accumulate a vast quantity of items, leading to clutter and disorganization in their living spaces. This behavior is driven by obsessions and compulsions related to the fear of throwing away something important, the need to save items, and the discomfort associated with discarding possessions.
  • Intrusive Thoughts OCD: also referred to as Pure-O OCD (Pure Obsessional OCD). It is characterized by the presence of distressing and intrusive thoughts, images, or mental impulses that cause significant anxiety. The term “Pure-O” is somewhat misleading because individuals do have compulsions, but they are not observable repetitive behaviors. The compulsions are in the form of mental rituals.
  • Relationship OCD (ROCD): individuals experience distressing and intrusive obsessions and engage in compulsive behaviors related to their romantic relationships. It is characterized by obsessive doubts and concerns about the quality, compatibility, or authenticity of one’s romantic relationship, despite no real evidence of problems. The compulsive behaviors are often mental rituals or relational behaviors that individuals use to reduce their anxiety and gain certainty about their relationship, e.g. seeking constant reassurance from their partner.
  • Scrupulosity OCD: also referred to as Religious OCD or Moral OCD. Individuals experience distressing and intrusive thoughts, doubts, or fears related to their faith, ethics, or moral values. These obsessions typically revolve around fears of committing sins, blasphemy, or moral transgressions. Compulsions include engaging in repetitive religious rituals, such as praying, confessing, or seeking forgiveness, to alleviate anxiety or to “undo” perceived moral wrongs. They may also avoid religious activities or places for fear of triggering their obsessions.
  • Symmetry OCD: the obsessions and compulsions are related to achieving perfect symmetry, balance, or orderliness in one’s environment or daily life. Individuals experience distressing and intrusive thoughts or discomfort when they perceive asymmetry or disorder. Compulsions can include arranging and rearranging objects, counting, touching things a certain number of times, or performing actions symmetrically.

This list is not exhaustive, and individuals may experience symptoms that overlap multiple categories.

The cause of OCD is a combination of genetic, neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors. Some common factors that may contribute to the development of OCD include:

  • Genetics: A family history of OCD or other mental health conditions can increase the risk.
  • Brain structure and function: Abnormalities in brain regions involved in regulation of emotions and behavior, such as the basal ganglia and anterior cingulate cortex, have been observed in some people with OCD.
  • Cognitive factors: Rigid and extreme thinking patterns, such as over-evaluation of threat and responsibility, can maintain and worsen OCD symptoms.
  • Life events: Trauma, stress, and infections can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms in some people.
  • Environmental factors: Life changes, such as a new school, job, or relationship, can worsen OCD symptoms in some people.

OCD is typically treated with the combination of medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and psychotherapy.

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