Are obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour hindering your daily life? Are they impeding your life and are your family members distressed about your behaviour? Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) due to their predisposition to respond to danger and uncertainty or insecurity. In particular, the hygiene related recommendations in the context of the pandemic may deepen the gravity of the disorder, especially for those with obsessional fears of contamination.
“Obsessions” are recurrent and persistent thoughts, images, or impulses, which uncontrollably intrude on consciousness, and certainly cause significant anxiety or distress.
The individual recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind and attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images with some other thought or action.
“Compulsions” are repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, ordering, checking or mental acts for instance praying, counting, repeating words silently and so on, that an individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession.
At some point, during the disorder, individuals recognize that the obsessions and compulsions are unreasonable but lack control over it.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified as an anxiety disorder because people experience anxiety as a result of their obsessional thoughts and when they cannot carry out their compulsive behaviors. These obsessions and compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming and significantly interfere with an individual`s standard routine in terms of occupational or academic functioning, as well as social activities and relationships.
The focus of obsessive thoughts seems to be similar across cultures, most commonly consisting of dirt and contamination. An example of Howie Mandel, comedian and host of Deal or No Deal programme. He has obsessions about germs and contamination that keeps him from shaking hands with anyone. When contestants win big money on the show, he will do a fist bump with them but will not shake their hand. He keeps his head shaved because it helps him feel cleaner (Mandel, 2005).
If Howie Mandel does touch someone’s hand or an object that he thinks is dirty, he will wash his hands repeatedly until he feels clean. This compulsive behavior becomes so extreme and repetitive that it is described as irrational.
Another example is that of David Beckham, World-renowned soccer star. He has obsessions about having to keep everything in a straight line or arranging everything in pairs (quoted in Dolan, 2006). Hence, Beckham spends hours arranging the furniture in his house in a particular way or lining up the clothes in his closet by color. Even, the fridge, is all coordinated on either side. In the drinks section, everything is symmetrical. If there are three cans, he will throw away one because it has to be an even number.
Other common obsessions include aggressive impulses such as to hurt one’s child, impulses to do something against one’s moral code and repeated doubts such as worrying that you have not turned off the stove. Although thoughts of this kind occur to most individuals occasionally, most of us can dismiss or ignore them. However, individuals with OCD cannot.
Let us understand the potential causes and treatment approach for OCD.
The Biological theory of OCD suggest that imbalance in neurotransmitter (serotonin) in the brain could result in impairment. Hence, Drug therapy is used to regulate the imbalance in neurotransmitter-serotonin.
The Cognitive-behavioral theory deliberates that people with OCD are unable to turn off the negative, intrusive thoughts that most individuals usually experience in normal circumstances. Subsequently, compulsive behaviors develop when individuals are reinforced with behaviors that reduce anxiety.
“The Exposure and response prevention therapies” have turned out helpful for OCD sufferers. These therapies expose OCD clients to the content of their obsessions while preventing compulsive behavior, so anxiety over the obsessions and the compulsions to perform the behavior is extinguished.