Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder consisting of recurring and unwanted obsessive thoughts and/or repetitive and compulsive actions and behaviours.
OCD can vary in its severity and impact and can sometimes result in very high levels of anxiety and distress. OCD can also take up a considerable amount of time and attention for both the sufferer and their family and friends.
We all have anxious thoughts and they can influence our behaviour in a helpful way. For example, the thought: “Did I leave the front door open?” might lead us to go back and check, and prevent the house from being burgled.
It’s also normal to have certain routines, for example, a bedtime routine consisting of having a bath, reading a book, and ending with a milky drink.
However, if these thoughts and behaviours become obsessive (recurring), they can lead someone to engage in unhelpful behaviours (for example, repeatedly checking the door), which can interfere with their daily functioning, such as frequently being late for work or school.
OCD is when a person carries out compulsions to reduce their anxiety and obsessive thoughts, as this reinforces their belief that their worrying thoughts might be true. They never get the opportunity to learn that their anxiety will gradually go away without performing their compulsions.
Some of the most common signs to look out for are:
Many children and young people with OCD can feel embarrassed and ashamed of their thoughts and behaviours. Some might not even know that what they’re experiencing is OCD. This can make it really hard for them to talk to other people about how they feel and ask for help.
When children and young people do manage to talk about how they feel, they often feel much better.
If you’ve tried to support the child or young person by using the techniques on this page and they’re still having difficulties, there’s lots of support available in your area. You can find information about what your local area offers in the ‘Local Offer’.
If the symptoms of OCD are interfering significantly with their day to day life and/or you are concerned that they may be at risk of harm, for example by not eating or by harming themselves, talk to your GP or another health professional about what other support is available or refer your child into our services.
You can find additional support online by visiting:
Books that might help include: