What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is described as an anxiety disorder. The condition has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.


Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind; for example, thinking that you have been contaminated by dirt and germs, or experiencing a sudden urge to hurt someone.

These obsessions are often frightening or seem so horrible that you cannot share them with others. The obsession interrupts your other thoughts and makes you feel very anxious.

“I get unwanted thoughts all through the day, which is very distressing and affects my ability to interact with others and concentrate on my studies and work”


Compulsions are repetitive activities that you feel you have to do.

This could be something like repeatedly checking a door to make sure it is locked or repeating a specific phrase in your head to prevent harm coming to a loved one.

The aim of a compulsion is to try and deal with the distress caused by the obsessive thoughts and relieve the anxiety you are feeling. However, the process of repeating these compulsions is often distressing and any relief you feel is often short-lived.

“Getting ready for each day involves so much hand washing, mental rituals, and doing things in the same order everyday…Sometimes, I feel like staying in bed and avoiding the day.”

Living with OCD

Although many people experience minor obsessions (e.g. worrying about leaving the gas on, or if the door is locked) and compulsions (e.g. rituals, like avoiding the cracks in the pavement), these do not significantly interfere with their daily lives, or are short-lived.

If you experience OCD, your obsessions and compulsions will cause you considerable fear and distress. They will also take up a significant amount of time, and disrupt your ability to carry on with your day-to-day to life, including doing daily chores, going to work, or maintaining relationships with friends and family.

Many people with OCD experience feelings of shame and loneliness, which often stop them from seeking help, particularly if they experience distressing thoughts about subjects such as religion, sex or violence. This means that many people try to cope with OCD alone, until the symptoms are so severe that they cannot hide them anymore.

OCD is also known to have a close association with depression, and some people find that obsessions appear, or get worse, when they are depressed.

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