The human brain’s complexity and functionality are greatly underestimated because not only does it regulate vital organs such as the heart and lungs without our active involvement, but it also enables us to produce an endless stream of thoughts at the same time. There is a sophisticated balance that enables us to maintain these two aspects and become who we are. Unfortunately, there are times, when the intricate balance of the brain is interrupted, resulting in abnormalities and mental conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
1. What is OCD?
Usually, people think of OCD as a constant need to maintain cleanliness and nothing more than that; however, the mental condition that induces an unwanted and constant stream of thoughts, along with sensations or urges to do something repeatedly, is considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. The repetition of thoughts or impulses is deemed as obsession, while the irrational behavior to neutralize these thoughts or sensations is considered a compulsion. The most common examples of obsessions are the idea of keeping everything clean or organizing everything. As for compulsions, acts like checking your phone constantly or counting senselessly are some of its common examples.
The idea that a mental disorder can cause compulsive behavior was both unimaginable and non-existent before the 19th century. Pierre Janet, a French psychologist, was among the first people to document features of OCD; however, the presently accepted theory of OCD was introduced by Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist in 1910. He described ideas that were previously considered blasphemous. Interestingly, before the 18th century, people with OCD were thought to be possessed by evil, therefore, banishing evil via exorcism was a common treatment for OCD. Moreover, there have been recorded cases where such people were burnt for their erratic behavior.
3. Causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder
Although the true cause behind this mental disorder is unknown, it is believed that there are a number of factors, such as genetics, environment, and medication that can cause OCD. Genetics is the most prevalent cause of OCD that is widely accepted by healthcare experts. Moreover, the chances of developing OCD increase threefold if there’s a family history of this condition. While childhood trauma is also a trigger for obsessive-compulsive disorder, theories are still being developed to find the link between them.
4. Evident in Teenage years
A majority of symptoms of OCD become evident during the teenage years. This is because during that time, the brain is developing, and any abnormalities in the functionality of the brain can be easily identified. Interestingly, the symptoms often appear sooner in boys compared to girls. Although OCD can be diagnosed at an early age, the National Institute of Mental Health recommends that it should be diagnosed at the age of 19. Additionally, only psychologists, psychiatrists, and trained therapists can diagnose OCD.
5. Present in Young Children
While it is true that OCD only begins to surface in the teenage years in most people, symptoms can be observed as soon as 6 years of age. Experts claim that behaviors such as fear of dirt, organizing toys in symmetry, or unusual rituals for children can be symptoms of OCD. Despite these symptoms, physicians only recommend parents be alarmed when such behavior begins to interfere with a child’s life. Moreover, on rare occasions, children that may have experienced strep throat can develop OCD after 3 to 4 weeks after the infection.
6. Changes in the Brain Structure
Despite OCD being a condition that has been around for centuries, it was not until the development of brain imaging technology that physicians were able to see the actual brain structure of a person with OCD. Interestingly, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have structural changes in their frontal cortex and subcortical area in the brain. Although such changes are present in each person with OCD, exactly how these changes impact the behavior is unclear.
6. Developed Nations at a Greater Risk
While the consensus is that developed nations offer better healthcare, OCD is more prevalent in developed nations according to the World Health Organization. Once again, the reason behind this statistic is unclear; however, experts believe that lack of exposure to nature might be a reason.
7. General Treatments
Depending on the severity of the condition, OCD can be treated with medication or psychotherapy. Additionally, if a person with OCD happens to have other mental disorders like depression or anxiety, it becomes important to distinguish between different conditions for the ideal treatment. Electroconvulsive therapy is also used to treat OCD. In this, slight seizures are induced using electric current to correct the brain signals.
8. Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
Serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SRIs are one of the most commonly used medications for OCD. Serotonin, also known as the feel-good chemical, is responsible for maintaining a mental balance and overall good mood of the person. As for the SRI, it inhibits the brain from absorbing serotonin, therefore, triggering an increased secretion of serotonin. SRIs are often prescribed to people with depression and anxiety.
As mentioned previously, structural changes are present in people with OCD, therefore, if the condition is not getting better with medication or other mentioned treatments, a physician may recommend surgery to the individual. Essentials of Abnormal Psychology, a book by psychologists, D. H. and V. M. Durand, states that nearly 30 percent of patients with OCD benefit from the surgical option.
10. Stress and OCD
Although OCD causes a person to repeat erratic behavior, stress can make the onset of such behavior worse. It is observed that once a person with OCD experiences stress, they begin to repeat a certain action as a means to comfort themselves. Sadly, doing so creates friction in their thoughts as they don’t wish to do it, resulting in anxiety. Therefore, keeping stress levels low is essential for people with OCD.