Dr Zak talks about the serious condition, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

MANY medical terms casually find their way into common jargon, often without the user thinking, or indeed being aware of what the word or phrase means.

How many times have you heard someone say “I’m a bit OCD.” You may have even said it yourself.

Yet Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, to give the disease its full title, is much more than striving for an orderly life, or liking things a particular way.

Read more: North East has highest proportion of late prostate cancer diagnosis compare to South

Sadly, it is an enduring and often debilitating mental health illness which is unlikely to get better unless recognised by the sufferer or someone around them.

There are three aspects to OCD. The first is obsessions. While we may all have certain thoughts that preoccupy us from time to time, in OCD these take over, to the exclusion of other thoughts.

Furthermore, they are irrational. Though the person often recognises that their thoughts as such, they are unable to reduce or stop them.

This produces unpleasant feelings such as a state of unease which progresses to anxiety.

The final step is compulsions. These are acts or routines that are gone through as a way of trying to reduce the levels of anxiety and therefore the obsessive thoughts.

The classic example of OCD is someone with a fear of germs who fixates on the possibility of catching a serious illness from normal social contact. Consequently, they wash their hands repetitively, sometimes until they bleed.

However, the thoughts associated with OCD can be far more distressing. They include visions of harm to self and others, either accidentally or on purpose. Images of either being a victim of, or carrying out sexual abuse can be a part of OCD.

It is vitally important to say that these thoughts do not mean that the person with OCD will act upon them. It is the irrational fear that these obsessions may turn into reality that causes unwell in the person affected.

Similarly, compulsions are often not related to obsessions in a way that might seem obvious. They can include repeating words over and over, sometimes silently, counting to a certain number and various other routines.

It may seem obvious but OCD can be a hidden illness, and many affected are at great pain to hide their distress and suffering.

Over a million people suffer with OCD in the UK, with the majority starting to develop symptoms from their late teens to early thirties. It occurs in children too. Recent studies show that excessive screen time or giving children mobile phones or tablets to pacify them is linked to a greater risk of OCD, though research is ongoing.

There is a genetic element in that first degree relatives of someone with OCD are more likely to develop the condition.

However, your environment can play a significant role too. Individuals who are naturally organised or feel a strong sense of responsibility to themselves or others are more likely to develop obsessive compulsive disorder.

It can also be triggered by certain life events. Any form of trauma be that abuse, a major illness or bereavement can upset a person’s natural balance.

Unfortunately, OCD is linked to the development of other mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, eating disorders and tragically self-harm and suicide.

If you recognise this in either yourself or a loved one, the first step is to seek help.

OCD is unlikely to improve or resolve without professional assistance.

The mainstays of treatment are counselling and medication. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has shown to lessen the symptoms in up to three quarters of patients, though twenty five percent report that it was too strenuous for them or made their condition worse.

CBT aims to challenge unhealthy ways of thinking, hopefully allowing the person greater awareness of when they are starting to feel unwell.

Read next:

If you want to read more great stories, why not subscribe to your Northern Echo for as little as £1.25 a week. Click here

An imbalance in brain chemicals may have a role in the development of OCD and high dose antidepressants may help some individuals.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is where electrodes are placed on the scalp and electrical pulses are passed through areas of the brain. Though not painful, this is still only being used in research studies.

The biggest issue facing OCD is lack of funding. For every £9 spent on research into depression, less than £1 is spent into OCD. Yet with greater awareness, this may improve.

The most important thing is seeking help. OCD is not “going mad.”

It is an illness like any other.