Diagnosing mental illness can be challenging, but it is made more challenging when patients present symptoms of multiple illnesses, which is called comorbidity. Comorbidity also implies interactions between the illnesses that affect the course and prognosis of both. In mental illness, comorbidity is very common, and especially common for those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Approximately 70 percent of people who have OCD also have one or more other psychiatric disorders.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent intrusive ideas, impulses, or urges (obsessions) along with overt or covert behaviors (compulsions) aimed at reducing the distress.
OCD’s obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are negative in nature and cause distress. These experiences often make it very difficult for a person with OCD to navigate work, school, or social situations and can prevent them from fully enjoying their lives.
Common types of obsessions center on:
- Becoming ill or dying
- Disturbing sexual thoughts, urges, or images
- Doubts about having done something right or forgetting things
- Germs or contamination
- Harming or having harmed someone
- Something bad happening
Compulsions are repetitive acts that may temporarily relieve some of the stress caused by the obsessive thoughts. These rituals often don’t make sense or are disconnected from the obsession, but those with OCD feel compelled to complete them anyway. Sometimes the compulsions are superstitious in nature, meaning those with OCD believe harm will come to them or someone else if the compulsive ritual isn’t completed correctly.
Common compulsions include:
- Constantly checking that tasks were completed
- Doing something over and over until it’s “just right”
- Excessive washing or cleaning
- Repeatedly putting things in a certain order
- Replicating routine behaviors
- Seeking reassurance from others
This disease affects between one and three percent of the population. OCD usually starts in late adolescence or the early twenties. An estimated 40 percent of people who develop OCD in childhood will recover from the disorder by adulthood. For the other 60 percent, a childhood-onset often means the disorder will be both severe and chronic. OCD tends to worsen over time, so it’s important to get an early diagnosis from a medical doctor or mental healthcare professional. Most diagnoses first require a full physical exam to rule out symptoms possibly being caused by medications, illegal substances, or a medical condition.
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Treatment normally includes both medication and therapy. One of the most effective therapies for OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a goal-oriented psychotherapy that challenges illogical beliefs and uses behavioral techniques to counteract compulsive behaviors. Exposure and Response Prevention is a specific type of CBT that can be beneficial to someone with OCD. As the name suggests, patients are exposed to something that triggers their anxiety a little at a time, and they are prevented from responding with the compulsive behavior.
How OCD and Depression Are Linked
Depression is a mental health disorder that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks and acts. Studies have found that Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) occurs in approximately 40 percent of individuals with OCD. Researchers believe the two diseases are often linked because they are characterized by disruptions in serotonin, a natural brain chemical that helps stabilize mood.
When OCD and depression are comorbid, depression usually emerges after the onset of OCD, which has led researchers to suggest the stress of living with the disease may alter the brain. The combination of the diseases can complicate treatment because those diagnosed with depression often struggle with adherence to treatment regimens, including keeping up with medications. As a result, it’s important for those struggling with both OCD and depression to seek help from professionals trained to work with clients with these two comorbid conditions.
Be Part of the Solution
Mental health disorders, especially comorbid disorders, are widely misunderstood. According to the World Health Organization, fewer than 50 percent of people with mental health disorders ever seek treatment. The consequences of untreated or undiagnosed mental health disorders are staggering and can include an increased risk of chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
Studying psychology will lay a foundation for a future career in human services and mental health treatment or graduate study in the field. The online bachelor’s in psychology from Rivier University features study topics that include drugs and behaviors, counseling theories and practice, developmental psychology, and more. Our program takes place in a convenient online learning environment so that you can earn your degree while maintaining your current schedule. Multiple term starts, a generous transfer credit policy, and competitive tuition rates are designed to help you graduate sooner.