What is OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a mental health disorder that has been considered both an anxiety disorder and its own disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder features both obsession and compulsive behavior. Obsessions are repeated thoughts, mental images, and urges, that are both difficult to not focus on and which cause tremendous anxiety. Compulsive behavior is behavior that is repetitive and triggered by obsessive thought. Compulsive behavior is a way that people with OCD attempt to cope with the anxiety created by obsessive thought.

For instance, if a person with OCD has an intense, obsessive fear of germs, that person would likely engage in compulsive hand washing. While washing hands is a rational response to dirt and germs, what makes OCD a disorder is that it is disproportionate and disruptive. The obsession with the germs creates anxiety that is high enough to make the hand washing both compulsive – not washing his or her hands would create unbearable anxiety – and repetitive enough to negatively impact quality of life.

OCD can feature any kind of obsessive thought that creates enough anxiety to compel any kind of compulsive behavior. Common obsessions include fear of germs, fear of making mistakes, a need for order and/or symmetry, and obsessive self-doubt. Common compulsive behavior includes excessive hand washing, refusing to touch door handle, refusing to shake hands, very specific, inflexible routines, constant counting while performing routine tasks, needing to perform tasks a specific number of times, and hoarding items with seemingly no intrinsic value.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have OCD take the ADAA’s online screening.

For more information about OCD visit MHA’s website.

This page was produced in partnership with the Plantory AmeriCorps VISTA network and Mental Health America of Kentucky.