Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Myths and Truths

Public health experts recommend that you protect yourself against germs that can make you sick. But if you find yourself taking this advice to the extreme by washing your hands repeatedly until your skin is raw and avoiding contact with others so much that this focus interferes with your daily activities, you could have a condition called obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD.

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

"In simplest terms, OCD is a disorder wherein the person suffers from a compulsion or obsession that is recurrent or repetitive and has a negative impact on his or her life," explains Elizabeth A. Kus, MA, a doctoral faculty assistant in clinical forensic psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She shares some of the common myths and facts about OCD.

OCD Myth: Many people suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.
OCD Fact:
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that only about 1 percent of adults in the United States will be affected by this disorder. However, many people without OCD will exhibit compulsive behaviors, such as frequently checking to be sure the stove is off, but this isn't true OCD if the actions aren't extreme enough to interfere with daily functioning.

OCD Myth: Obsessive compulsive disorder affects only adults, not young people.
OCD Fact:
OCD most often presents itself in adolescence or young adulthood. Some children can also be affected. Gender can impact the age of onset OCD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association states that OCD generally occurs between the ages of 6 and 15 for boys and 20 and 29 for girls.

OCD Myth: People with obsessive compulsive disorder aren't aware that they are doing anything unusual or impacting their life in a negative way.
OCD Fact:
OCD sufferers are usually quite conscious of their obsessive behaviors and of the fact that they are interfering with personal and professional relationships and situations.

OCD Myth: People with obsessive compulsive disorder can control their behaviors.
OCD Fact
: The compulsions and obsessions that occur with OCD cannot be cured. The thoughts and behaviors are out of control and that is why they cause concerns for the person affected.

OCD Myth: Most cases of obsessive compulsive disorder appear in the same way.
OCD Fact:
How this disorder presents will depend on what the obsession or compulsion relates to. There may be avoidance (such as avoiding germs), repetitive behaviors (like constant hand washing) or obsession (such as an extreme focus on health). Some people with OCD will also experience guilt and shame because of the impact the behaviors are having on themselves and their family. But every person is different.

OCD Myth: There's no way to treat obsessive compulsive disorder.
OCD Fact:
OCD is typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medications. While this won't "cure" OCD completely, it can often control the symptoms and keep them from interfering with daily living. Therefore, if you suspect you could have OCD, it's important to talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a qualified therapist for diagnosis and treatment.

Elizabeth Kus, MA, reviewed this article.




American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 2000. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association. 4 Feb. 2013.

Kus, Elizabeth A., M.A., doctoral faculty assistant, clinical forensic psychology, Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Email interview 5 Feb. 2013.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Treatments and drugs. 15 December 2010.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obsessive-compulsive disorder/DS00189/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Among Adults 2005.