Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Mental Health

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  1. Characteristics of OCD
    1. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves uncontrollable, recurring thoughts that cause extreme distress, resulting in behaviors or compulsions like repeated or excessive handwashing, or repetitious counting to help relieve that distress.
  2. Negative impacts of OCD
    1. Over half of people living with OCD report significant impairment. 60% will also experience depression. 
  3. Reduce stigma through storytelling
    1. Use storytelling to educate viewers on the causes and compulsions of OCD to reduce stigma and increase empathy for those living with this condition.

Storytelling Tips

Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
  • Show effective treatments for OCD to increase awareness and confidence that these approaches can work. 
  • Exposure response prevention (ERP), an effective treatment for OCD, is often misunderstood.
Consider the Impact of Language
  • Avoid using “OCD” to describe any behavior that feels obsessive or perfection-oriented, as it can be trivializing for those who struggle with this condition. 
  • To be diagnosed with OCD, a person has to meet certain criteria, such as obsessions and compulsions significantly impacting their life over a period of time and for a certain amount of time each day. 
Move Past Stereotypes
  • Look for more complex and authentic ways to portray OCD to avoid perpetuating the stereotype that it’s simply about “odd behaviors.” 
  • Some entertainment storylines focus on the compulsions (handwashing, hoarding, counting, checking), but don’t tie them to the obsessions or the anxiety driving these behaviors. 


Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves uncontrollable recurring thoughts that cause extreme distress, resulting in behaviors — or compulsions — that are repeated many times to help relieve that distress. Examples include handwashing, putting things in order, and double checking to make sure things are locked, electronics are turned off, or objects are in the right position. These symptoms can become so severe and time consuming that they can interfere with school, work, relationships, and overall quality of life. 

To be diagnosed with OCD, a person must spend at least one hour a day on thoughts and behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety or distress.

Facts & Stats

About 2.3% of adults in the United States experience OCD.
The prevalence of OCD is higher in females (1.8%) than in males (0.5%).
In adults with OCD, 50.6% of people reported having serious impairment due to their condition, with another 34.8% reporting moderate impairment.
People with OCD can also have other co-occurring mental disorders such as anxiety or depression. Approximately 60% of people living with OCD will experience depression in their lifetime. 

Symptoms & Warning Signs

Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges or mental images that cause severe anxiety. Examples include fear of contamination, fear of losing or not having things, unwanted forbidden or taboo sexual or violent thoughts.

Avoidance involves people with OCD trying to help themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their obsessions. Some people may also use drugs or alcohol to “disconnect” themselves from the obsessions and compulsions.

Compulsions are the urges to repeat certain behaviors in direct response to obsessive thoughts to try to reduce anxiety. Common compulsions include excessive cleaning or hand washing, repeatedly checking on things, compulsive counting, or having to do an activity a certain number of times. People experiencing OCD do not get pleasure when performing these behaviors. At most, they may feel a brief relief.

Treatment Options

  • Medication Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown effective in some cases of OCD and are often prescribed along with psychotherapy.   
  • Psychotherapy Exposure response prevention (ERP) involves exposing a person to their obsessions in a controlled, therapeutic environment and then preventing the corresponding compulsion. This has been shown over time to lessen the anxiety and need for those compulsions.  

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