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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Thoughts and compulsive behaviours that can become challenging and distressing in every day life

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition when someone experiences obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. While it’s manageable, it can become time-consuming and challenging and pose difficulties to daily life.

Obsessive compulsive disorder can affected anyone, although onset above the ages of 35 is considered unusual. It’s typically split into two parts that can overlap: obsessions and compulsions. Most people with OCD recognise that their obsessions and compulsions, which can become beliefs, are inaccurate.

Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts that constantly appear in your mind and can make you feel increasingly anxious. They become difficult to ignore and become disturbing. These thoughts can be ideas, images or circumstantial. You can become obsessed with things that are out of your control and can interrupt your thoughts in an uncomfortable way. Your mind might not want to share them and it might start making you feel upset that you’re having these thoughts.

Obsessions can include:

  • Worrying that you’ve harmed someone or make them unwell through fear of contamination or not being careful enough. You might worry that a blip in your cleanliness like shaking hands or visiting somebody else’s house could make you or someone else ill and you could obsess over keeping germ-free.
  • Constant intrusive thoughts that might be of violent, sexual or guilty nature. This might give you unwanted images or urges creating uncharacteristic impulses that could make you aggressive, doubtful or anxious. You might think you’re a dangerous person or not in the right relationship with somebody.
  • Thinking that something ‘isn’t right’ all the time and the fear that a bad thing might occur.
  • A constant fear of responsibility and burdening yourself in worry that something you did or didn’t do could cause a serious incident.
  • Total perfectionism and that if you do something slightly wrong, such as making an honest mistake or forgetting something,

Compulsions become repetitive and you might do activities to reduce the anxiety you’re facing caused by obsessions. These activities will become repeated until you’re satisfied that an anxious feeling has disappeared. Compulsions can be physical or mental actions of a repeated nature.

Compulsions can include:

  • Repeatedly checking things to ensure they are satisfactorily secure: such as checking if lights and appliances are off, or if doors are properly closed and locked. This can also include regularly checking if you have all belongings in your possession.
  • Repeating can include doing movements or routines again and again, such as going in and out of doors or tapping, touching and blinking.
  • You may count in a certain way to go through a sequence repeatedly or land on a ‘safe number’.
  • You might constantly wash your hands at the fear of contamination and that you have to complete cleaning rituals so that others aren’t impacted. This can have physical, emotional and financial effects on people.
  • Hoarding, which means you might hold onto certain items because they have a specific meaning or belief despite having limited space in their household. This can make it difficult for people to live in their home comfortably.


While it’s not clear what causes OCD, there might be certain factors that contribute to why a person has the condition:

  • Personal experience – this could be because of ongoing anxiety or stress.
  • Biological
  • Genetic
  • Personality
  • Childhood experience

How we can help

Our Information and Support Line signposts you to relevant support in your area that most fits your needs and how Change Mental Health supports people in local communities across Scotland with mental health conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder.

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