Could You Have OCD?

In the 1997 movie As Good As it Gets, Jack Nicholson's character displayed numerous quirky habits. He ate at the same table in the same restaurant each day, brought his own plastic utensils, engaged in an elaborate process of locking his front door, and skipped over cracks in the pavement. While the movie generated plenty of laughs, for people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) like Nicholson's character, it's no laughing matter.

As its name implies, individuals with this mental health disorder alternate between obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and compulsive rituals to try to control the obsessions. This cycle is disruptive and causes stress and anxiety. In many cases, OCD interferes in an individual's ability to engage in work, school or other daily activities. Approximately 2.2 million Americans suffer from OCD.

Could You Have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

People with OCD realize they have excessive or unrealistic obsessions. The problem is they can't prevent these thoughts, impulses, or images from invading their minds. Ignoring or trying to stop only increases their stress. To cope, OCD sufferers perform repetitive behaviors, hoping they will reduce their anxiety.

OCD is more than just excessive worrying about real problems in the person's life. Often, OCD focuses around a theme. For example, someone with an unrealistic fear of germs or dirt may repeatedly wash his or her hands or body.

Other typical compulsions include fear of intruders, violence, hurting loved ones or sexual acts. In addition to compulsive washing, some people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder must put, or do, things in a certain order.

OCD typically begins in childhood or during the teen years. Experts are not exactly sure why some people develop this particular mental health disorder. They believe there is a biological component. OCD causes changes in the chemicals in the body or the way the brain functions. Insufficient serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain, may contribute to OCD as well as a family history or stressful life events. Children who've developed a specific type of strep throat-A beta-hemolytic streptococcal pharyngitis-may go on to develop OCD.

Regardless of its cause, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is treatable with psychotherapy and medication. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is very effective. During CBT, psychotherapists teach patients different ways of thinking to decrease their anxiety and fear. Some patients also respond well to anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications.

If you believe you have OCD, see a physician for treatment. Although it may have been as good as it gets for Nicholson and company, you don't have to resign yourself to the anxiety and disruption of OCD.