Explains obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
Obsessions are persistent thoughts, pictures, urges or doubts that appear in your mind again and again. They interrupt your thoughts against your control, and can be really frightening, graphic and disturbing. They may make you feel anxious, disgusted or uncomfortable.
You might feel you can't share them with others or that there is something wrong with you that you have to hide. You might feel upset that you are capable of having such thoughts.
"I get unwanted thoughts all through the day, which is very distressing and affects my ability to interact with others and concentrate on my studies."
You might experience more than one type of obsession. They are often linked together. For example you might experience a fear of contamination and a fear of doing someone harm by accidentally making them ill.
You can read more about the different types of obsessions read more about different types of obsession on the OCD-UK website.
"I would seek medical reassurance online and for a day or so I could breathe a sigh of relief... but then the doubt would set in and I started the process again."
Compulsions are repetitive activities that you feel you have to do. The aim of a compulsion is to try and deal with the distress caused by obsessive thoughts.
You might have to continue doing the compulsion until the anxiety goes away and things feel right again. You might know that it doesn't make sense to carry out a compulsion - but it can still feel too scary not to.
Repeating compulsions is often very time-consuming and the relief they give you doesn't usually last very long.
Pure O stands for 'purely obsessional'. People sometimes use this phrase to describe a type of OCD where they experience distressing intrusive thoughts but there are no external signs of compulsions (for example checking or washing). The name is slightly misleading as it suggests that there are no compulsions at all.
If you have Pure O you will still experience mental compulsions but you might not be aware of them. Because they are not as obvious as physical compulsions, it can sometimes be difficult to define exactly what these compulsions are.
Here are some examples of internal compulsions:
"Getting ready involves so much hand washing and so many mental rituals. Sometimes, I feel like staying in bed and avoiding the day."
You might find that some activities, objects or experiences make your obsessions or compulsions worse. For example if you are worried that you might stab someone then you might avoid the kitchen because you know there are knives there.
Sometimes it might feel easier to avoid situations that mean you have to do a compulsion. For example if you have to do a long and time-consuming ritual every time you leave the house, you might just decide it's easier to stay indoors. But avoiding things can have a major impact on your life.
This information was published in May 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.