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Obsessive compulsive disorder

What is OCD

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

OCD can affect men, women and children. Some people start having symptoms early, often around puberty, but it usually starts during early adulthood.

OCD can be distressing and significantly interfere with your life, but treatment can help you keep it under control


If you have OCD, you'll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

  • An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.

  • A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.

For example, someone with an obsessive fear of being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave their house.

Women can sometimes have OCD during pregnancy or after their baby is born. Obsessions may include worrying about harming the baby or not sterilising feeding bottles properly. Compulsions could be things such as repeatedly checking the baby is breathing.


Signs & Symptoms 

OCD has 3 main elements:

  • obsessions – where an unwanted, intrusive and often distressing thought, image or urge repeatedly enters your mind

  • emotions – the obsession causes a feeling of intense anxiety or distress

  • compulsions – repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person with OCD feels driven to perform as a result of the anxiety and distress caused by the obsession

  • The compulsive behaviour temporarily relieves the anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon return, causing the cycle to begin again.

  • It's possible to just have obsessive thoughts or just have compulsions, but most people with OCD experience both.​

Some common obsessions that affect people with OCD include:

  • fear of deliberately harming yourself or others – for example, fear you may attack someone else, such as your children

  • fear of harming yourself or others by mistake – for example, fear you may set the house on fire by leaving the cooker on

  • fear of contamination by disease, infection or an unpleasant substance

  • a need for symmetry or orderliness – for example, you may feel the need to ensure all the labels on the tins in your cupboard face the same way

You may have obsessive thoughts of a violent or sexual nature that you find repulsive or frightening. But they're just thoughts and having them does not mean you'll act on them


People with OCD are often reluctant to seek help because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.

OCD is a health condition like any other, so there's nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Having OCD does not mean you're "mad" and it's not your fault you have it.

There are 2 main ways to get help:

You can also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library.

If you think a friend or family member may have OCD, try talking to them about your concerns and suggest they get help.

It's unlikely OCD will get better without proper treatment and support.

The main treatments are:

Find out More: 

Support groups

Living with OCD can be difficult. In addition to getting medical help, you might find it helps to contact a support group or other people with OCD for information and advice.

The following websites may be useful sources of support:

OCD Action, OCD-UK and TOP UK can also let you know about any local support groups in your area.

Find out More: 
Self - Help 

OCD support groups

  • Many people with OCD find support groups helpful, as they can:

  • provide reassurance and coping advice

  • reduce feelings of isolation 

  • offer a chance to socialise with others

  • provide information and advice for family members and friends

  • The national charities OCD Action, OCD-UK and TOP UK can provide information about support groups in your area:

  • OCD Action support groups

  • OCD-UK support groups

  • TOP UK support groups

  • You may want to visit the HealthUnlocked OCD forum, where you can discuss all aspects of the condition with others who have OCD.

  • You can also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library.

Emergency Action plan:

Carry out a primary survey

  1. Calm the Person

  2. Ask the person what you can do to help.

  3. Reassure the person that the attack will probably pass in a few minutes.

  4. Encourage the person to take slow, even breaths.

  5. Do not minimize the person's symptoms.

  6. If they've had a panic attack before, ask them what helped them through it.

  7. If unable to calm the person, take him or her to see a health care provider right away.

Related Problems

Some people with OCD may also have or develop other serious mental health problems, including:

  • depression – a condition that typically causes lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, or a loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy

  • eating disorders – conditions characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that cause you to change your eating habits and behaviour

  • generalised anxiety disorder – a condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event

  • hoarding disorder – a condition that involves excessively acquiring items and not being able to throw them away, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter

People with OCD and severe depression may also have suicidal feelings.

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