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When Obsession Becomes a Problem
Mental Health Awareness Week has been promoting information about mental health issues since the year 2000. For this year’s awareness week from the 12th to the 18th May the theme is anxiety. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a very disabling form of anxiety disorder and David Adam, a writer in the field of science, has just written a book about the disorder that is getting some excellent reviews. What is OCD? Think about when you leave your house or flat in the morning, do you check you’ve locked the door, once, maybe twice? Does this mean you have some kind of obsessional disorder? No, but imagine if you checked the door a dozen times, and then walked ten minutes to the bus stop and then had to return home just to check the door again then that would really be impacting on your work and home life. In his book Adam differentiates between someone who might be a bit ‘obsessional’ and those like him who have a really debilitating condition that impacts on his everyday life.
Just can’t stop
Adam’s book is titled The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in which he describes his own experience of over 20 years suffering with OCD. His own obsession is driven by a very powerful but completely irrational fear that he will contract HIV. Some of the obsessions described in the book really are quite devastating. He talks about Hans Christian Andersen who was obsessed with the idea of being buried alive, and incredibly an Ethiopian girl who ate mud from the wall at the front of her house on a daily basis because that was the only way she could relieve feelings of anxiety. These are extreme examples, but then OCD is about extremes.
When obsession becomes a problem
The way we might judge the difference between being a ‘bit obsessional’ and having a serious mental disorder is about the impact on our lives. These are some of the questions we might ask.
- How severe is the obsession?
- How frequent and regular is the obsession?
- Is the thinking behind the obsession, and the actions you take to cope with it, having an impact on your ability to go about your day-to-day living?
Back to David Adam’s book. He talks about what has helped him. The author talks of the benefits for him of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – that’s a talking treatment that tries to changes the person’s way of thinking about something, as well as use of anti-depressant medication. For further information on OCD have a look at QCS policy CC60 on anxiety disorder which includes some up-to-date guidance on assessing and managing service users with OCD.