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OCD: why some people suffer with it, is it on the rise and can it be treated? A Priory expert answers

  • Inquiries about private mental health treatment for OCD have more than doubled in the last year
  • Priory expert says there are a range of treatments that can help, including CBT and medication
  • OCD is said to affect up to 12 people in every 1,000 at a time

Based on current estimates, there are around three quarters of a million people living with OCD in the UK at any one time – and inquiries to the Priory for private mental health treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have more than doubled in the last year.

So what exactly is it, and why does it occur?

Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s London Wellbeing Centres and its hospital in Hayes Grove, Kent, says: “OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes individuals to experience a variety of symptoms that typically fall into one of two categories: ‘obsessions’ and ‘compulsions’.

“Obsessions are persistent and irrational thoughts or urges, and compulsions refer to physical or mental acts that individuals feel compelled to perform.

“Some only experience one type of symptom, whilst others experience both. These irrational thoughts and behaviours can become extremely time-consuming and seem impossible to control. An example could be if someone has an intrusive thought of being contaminated by germs, so they may repetitively wash their hands in response. However, this is not the only form of OCD; common ‘presentations’ not only include contamination worries but double-checking and hoarding behaviour, as well as ruminations and intrusive thoughts and images. These can be overwhelming.”

There is no definitive reason why someone should develop OCD, he says, “but a range of factors - or combination of factors - include neurobiological, genetic, or specific events that trigger the disorder in a specific individual at a particular point in time”.

The most effective and commonly used treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps the sufferer develop alternative perspectives; getting the right help and support is vital to the success of treatment, he says.

“Some experts use the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) – a symptom checklist and severity rating scale. It is the most widely used severity rating scale for OCD and is considered a gold standard instrument to measure severity.” 

Treatments that can help

“There are a range,” says Dr McLaren. “There is also medication to complement the therapeutic element of treatment. OCD has the potential to become increasingly worse over time and can have a big impact on all areas of your life, as well as the lives of those who are closest to you. The aim of CBT is to address the negative thought patterns that form the basis of your OCD, examine why they have developed in the first place, before challenging you to view situations in healthier ways.

“CBT for OCD consists of exposure and response prevention (ERP), which means confronting your fears, learning to tolerate anxiety, and avoid using compulsive behaviours. CBT has been found to result in long-lasting benefits and also aims to provide you with effective coping strategies. The most useful medications in the treatment of OCD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are a form of antidepressant medication. Eye movement desensitization and re-processing (EMDR) is a therapy method used to treat OCD and a variety of mental health conditions including trauma, addiction and anxiety as well as other emotional conditions.”

Five ways to deal with OCD:

  1. If you suffer from unwanted intrusive thoughts, help is out there
    Speak to a professional who can offer guidance regarding your difficulties, and suggest the best treatment. Treatment for OCD can be very effective - treatment is not about eliminating anxiety, but learning to tolerate it, whilst being able to engage with your day-to-day life
  2. Remember that you are not alone
    OCD is a common anxiety disorder. In fact, a large part of the population may have had some OCD traits at some point in their lives. Don't let it prevent you from talking to people and getting help. There are online forums, and support groups that take place regularly
  3. Read about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    There is a lot of information available online regarding OCD, including testimonies from people with OCD and how they have dealt with it. This can help you to put your difficulties in perspective, offer context, and offer you more understanding
  4. Accept that OCD can be a problem and may be interfering in your life
    The first step of any change is coming to terms with what is required and why a change is needed. When suffering with OCD, people may employ a number of behaviours or rituals called safety behaviours. These behaviours may be helpful in the short-term as they can help you to avoid experiencing uncomfortable feelings, but in the long-term they may be perpetuating your difficulties
  5. Understand the treatment of OCD
    Read extensively about what you can and need to do to reduce your OCD. There is plenty of literature out there regarding the treatment of OCD and a number of knowledgeable therapists and consultants who can guide you, step by step, towards overcoming your difficulties. Priory offers online video therapy which can be helpful if you prefer to access support remotely




About Priory Group

 The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into two divisions – healthcare and adult care.

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