Even if you have never heard of the term OCD, the odds are you have seen it represented on TV or on the big screen. There is a particular fascination filmmakers have with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, using it as a representation of oddity to create memorable characters like the one played by Nicholas Cage in Matchstick Men, or Tony Shaloub's eponymous character on TV's Monk.
For sufferers, though, OCD can be a debilitating disorder that can wreck relationships and affect their ability to work and live a normal life. It is estimated that 1.2% of the population suffers from some form of OCD.
The name of the disorder is rather self-descriptory. 'Obsessive' because patients cannot help but think certain thoughts or have images that assail them unceasingly over long periods; 'Compulsive' because they then 'have' to perform certain actions to counter the obsessive thoughts.
The nature of the obsession-compulsion cycle can be draining, both mentally and physically. Some patients report 'rituals' that may take hours to complete which they feel absolutely compelled to perform. Some of these rituals have to be completed in just the right way; if the patient feels like there has been a lapse at any point, they feel obliged to start from the beginning over and over again until it is performed perfectly.
One of the most common OCDs is an obsession with cleanliness. Whereas this may take many forms, the OCD sufferer generally sees his personal space, work station, room or house as a pristine sanctuary from the 'uncleanliness' of the rest of the world. There is a fear that the uncleanliness is constantly encroaching and can only be kept at bay with cleaning and disinfection procedures carried out in a particular sequence.
Another OCD that has recently been in the spotlight is hoarding, where the patient cannot bear to let go of any of their possessions, no matter how old and decrepit they might be. The cable series Hoarders delves into the lives of such individuals and shows how otherwise normal people allow their homes to become veritable dumping grounds.
Needless to say, an OCD patient with a penchant for cleanliness and a hoarder would find it difficult to be friends.
Unlike with many other mental disorders, OCD exists in a way in which the patient is entirely aware that he is suffering. It is particularly frustrating for them that they cannot stop themselves from performing acts that they are aware are abnormal.
OCD treatment today can be in the form of drugs, behavioral therapy or a combination of both. Drugs inhibit the 'pleasure hormone', serotonin, in the patient's brain. This reduces the high that the patient experiences when completing their ritual. Behavioral therapy exposes OCD patients to their fears in small increments, allowing them to consciously grasp that something they fear might actually be harmless.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee of success. Research shows that even when fully treated, a patient relapses 48% of the time within 2 years.