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What is OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)?

Researcher & Writer: Sanika Deshpande

Illustrator: Angel Mao

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Although phrases like “my OCD is killing me” are often used in daily conversations, actual OCD is much more severe than that. The diagnostic criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions. To be diagnosed with OCD, a person must have a presence of obsessions and or compulsions that are time-consuming, not better explained by other mental health conditions and cause significant impairment in functioning.

Symptoms of OCD:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental health condition that involves unwanted, intrusive thoughts or obsessions, and repetitive behaviours or compulsions that are performed to alleviate anxiety. The symptoms of OCD can interfere with daily life, making it difficult to concentrate, maintain relationships, or perform daily tasks. Here are some common symptoms of OCD.

- Obsessions: Persistent, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that are intrusive and cause significant anxiety or distress. These thoughts may be related to cleanliness, safety, order, or other concerns.

- Compulsions: Repetitive behaviours or mental acts that are performed in response to the obsessions, in an attempt to reduce anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. Common compulsions may include cleaning, checking, counting, or arranging objects in a specific way.

- Avoidance: Avoidance of situations or objects that trigger obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours.

- Distress: The obsessions and compulsions of OCD can cause significant distress and anxiety, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

Causes of OCD

Although the exact causes of OCD are not fully explained, here are some of the factors.

1. Studies have found that OCD tends to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the condition. However, the exact genes involved in OCD are not yet known.

2. Imaging studies have found that people with OCD may have differences in the structure and functioning of certain areas of the brain, particularly the orbitofrontal cortex and the basal ganglia. These areas are involved in regulating emotions, decision-making, and repetitive behaviours.

3. Traumatic life events, such as abuse or a significant loss, may trigger the onset of OCD in some people. In addition, some studies have found that streptococcal infections may trigger the onset of OCD in children.

4. Some researchers believe that OCD may develop as a result of learned behaviours, in which people learn to associate certain thoughts or situations with anxiety and feel compelled to perform certain rituals or behaviours to reduce their anxiety.


In conclusion, OCD is a mental illness that drives people to repeat a behaviour or avoid something in order to reduce anxiety. These obsessions interfere with normal daily-life functioning. There are many factors that lead to OCD and mixed explanations, such as genes through nature and life events, nurture.


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