Empathy and Communication: Key Tools for Supporting Someone with OCD

Apr 25, 20246 min
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What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly known as OCD, is a mental health condition that involves intrusive thoughts called obsessions and repetitive behaviours known as compulsions. Compulsions aim to reduce anxiety linked with obsessions. Contrary to what people commonly believe, OCD is not just about cleanliness or organisation. This disorder brings considerable distress and disruption to daily life. A study by Zohar et al. in 2016 revealed that OCD covers various themes and expressions. 

Talking about how prevalent this disorder is, the American Psychiatric Association, in 2013, stated that about 2-3% of the world's population experiences OCD. This disorder has different prevalence estimates in India, mostly lower than in Western countries. One study found a 0.6% lifetime prevalence, and another noted a 0.8% prevalence among adolescents. These numbers don't show how big the problem is and make it hard to understand OCD in India. 

Symptoms and Manifestations:

The core symptoms of OCD fall under two categories:

  1. Obsessions: These are persistent, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that can be intrusive and distressing. Individuals affected by OCD typically disturb their regular thought patterns.
  • Common obsessions include persistent fears of harm or danger to oneself or others, leading to heightened anxiety and distress.
  • Some individuals with OCD may have a fear of contamination, compelling them to engage in excessive cleaning, washing, or sanitising rituals to alleviate their anxiety.
  • Unwanted taboo thoughts or aggressive impulses can intrude into the minds of individuals with OCD, causing significant discomfort.
  • Others may be troubled by concerns about order, symmetry, or exactness, prompting obsessive thoughts related to these themes.
  1. Compulsions: These are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels compelled to perform in response to the anxiety caused by obsessions.
  • Excessive cleaning, washing, or sanitising rituals are common compulsions aimed at reducing the perceived threat of contamination.
  • Checking behaviours are prevalent among individuals with OCD, involving repeated verification to alleviate anxiety associated with potential harm or mistakes.
  • Some individuals engage in repeating actions or mental rituals as a way to neutralise their obsessive thoughts and prevent perceived adverse outcomes.
  • Counting or arranging objects in specific ways becomes a compulsive behaviour for some individuals, providing a temporary sense of relief.
  • Avoidance of certain situations or places is another common compulsion, as individuals seek to manage their anxiety by steering clear of triggering stimuli.
  • Seeking reassurance repeatedly from others is a compulsive behaviorbehaviour aimed at alleviating doubts and uncertainties associated with obsessive thoughts.

It is important to note that the severity and presentation of OCD symptoms vary significantly between individuals. Some experience primarily obsessions with minimal compulsions, while others may engage in compulsive rituals to manage their intrusive thoughts.

Impact on Individuals

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can significantly disrupt the lives of affected individuals. It influences how they navigate their daily activities. Individuals experiencing OCD frequently find themselves overwhelmed with anxiety and stress, often feeling powerless in the face of intrusive thoughts. Such thoughts have the potential to induce feelings of fear, embarrassment, or guilt, impacting their overall emotional state. Engaging in repetitive activities as a way to soothe nerves can potentially consume a significant amount of time and energy. This may pose challenges in terms of concentration on tasks, maintaining relationships, and working towards personal goals.

OCD doesn't just impact the person with it; it affects their relationships with other people as well. Due to the lack of information about OCD, an individual’s family, friends, and partners may feel frustrated with them because they might find it hard to understand the obsessive thoughts and rituals. The time-consuming behaviours can strain relationships as loved ones may feel neglected or burdened by the need to accommodate these rituals. 

It OCD also affects how people interact with others and do their jobs. It can make social activities hard because individuals worry about others not understanding their thoughts or behaviours. At work, OCD can lower productivity and cause problems in relationships because rituals and obsessive thoughts get in the way, leading to missed chances and strained professional ties.

Perception of OCD

While people are becoming more aware of mental health, there is still a big problem with how society views mental health-related issues, including this disorder. There is a tendency to see OCD symptoms as a bit odd or quirky instead of understanding their clinical nature, which requires professional consideration. 

In India, how people see Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can be influenced by cultural and religious ideas. Some may attribute obsessive thoughts or behaviours to spiritual factors and try some religious practices to fix them. It makes it harder for people in India to understand OCD and seek treatment.

We hope that as awareness grows, people's perceptions of OCD will improve, enabling people to get the help that they deserve.

Caregivers and Their Role in The Treatment of OCD

Caregivers can play a very important role in recognising signs of OCD. Common signs include repetitive behaviours, constant checking, or an intense fear of contamination. If caregivers notice these behaviours affecting daily life, work, or relationships, it's important to encourage an open conversation about it.

As a caretaker, playing a supportive role in a loved one's journey with OCD is crucial. Here are some critical steps:

  • Educate yourself: Understanding OCD symptoms and treatment options can enable you to provide informed support.
  • Communicate openly: Encourage your loved one to express their feelings and challenges. Active listening and validating their experiences can be immensely helpful.
  • Focus on empathy: Remember that OCD is a chronic condition beyond their control. Avoid judgment and criticism. Instead, emphasise support and encouragement.
  • Respect boundaries: While offering support, respect your loved one's autonomy and treatment decisions.
  • Encourage professional help: Reinforce the importance of seeking professional help from a qualified mental health professional.
  • Join support groups: Connecting with other caregivers or individuals with OCD can provide valuable support and understanding.

The Role of Empathy and Effective Communication

Understanding their unique experiences is vital to providing meaningful support in navigating the complexities of OCD. In everyday situations, those providing support to someone with OCD can actively contribute to their treatment. This involvement includes participating in therapy sessions, gaining knowledge about the disorder, encouraging adherence to prescribed interventions, etc.

When engaging with someone coping with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), employing the use of empathy and effective communication becomes essential for offering meaningful support. 

Empathy, at its core, means stepping into the other person's shoes, recognising their challenges without passing judgment, and expressing genuine compassion for the difficulties they face on a daily basis. It is pivotal to acknowledge that individuals suffering from OCD often endure heightened anxiety and distress, a direct result of their intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that shape their daily experiences. Approaching them with empathy not only establishes a foundation of trust but also cultivates a non-judgmental environment that facilitates open communication. 

Open communication creates a supportive space where individuals dealing with OCD feel heard and understood. Asking open-ended questions and giving space to share their thoughts and feelings can offer valuable insights into individual’s challenges and coping strategies to manage their OCD symptoms. When a caregiver seeks to understand, validate experiences, and listen without interruption, it makes the person feel heard and supported in their journey.

While Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental health condition with various aspects, it is important to remember that with the proper understanding, awareness, and access to effective treatment, individuals can handle their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. By dispelling misconceptions, fostering supportive environments, and promoting suitable treatment, we can empower individuals with OCD and their families to navigate this journey successfully.

References:

  1. https://mavehealth.notion.site/Caregivers-Guide-d0ae9fd245654464805379d34dc64477
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  3. Hartman, N., Klugman, S., & Foa, E. B. (2017). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. In D. H. Barlow (Ed.), Clinical handbook of psychological disorders (6th ed., pp. 287-323). Guilford Press.
  4. In-Depth Report: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). (2021, June 16). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd
  5. Zohar, J., Insel, T. R., & Shear, K. (2016). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 2, 16010. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41572-019-0102-3
  6. National Institute of Mental Health. (2021, February 25). Anxiety Disorders. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
  7. Sarkar, K., Chandrasekharan, V., & Srinivasan, K. (2020). Stigma as a barrier to mental health help-seeking in India: A descriptive study. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 66(3), 320-328. https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-023-09075-6
  8. Agarwal, A., & Sagar, R. (2011). An overview of Indian research in obsessive compulsive disorder. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 53(3), 181-187. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.90122
  9. Jain, S., & Verma, S. K. (2010). An epidemiological study of obsessive compulsive disorder in adolescents from India. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 56(4), 590-596. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020719409349524
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Suvrita
Psychologist | Mental Health | Gender & Sexuality