Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Causes and Treatment
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Approximately 1 in 50 people suffer from this debilitating disorder to some degree, with the majority of sufferers being female. We all have doubts from time to time about whether we turned the iron off or not, and we may even take steps to check if we actually did switch the iron off. But why do some of us go on to develop this disorder and not others?
One theory states that early life experiences may lead the sufferer to believe that some thoughts are unacceptable. This is common is households where discussions about sex are prohibited and the child naturally believes that asking such questions or even thinking them is bad, and will take steps to avoid thinking these thoughts. Alternatively, a child may wish his parent dead after a particular incident, and upon hearing that the parent has died in an accident, will take on board the idea that they have “killed” the parent, causing enormous guilt. If the child cannot discuss their feelings about the incident and instead represses them, the resultant guilt may be relieved by indulging in compulsive behaviors, potentially exposing the child to the development of OCD.
Another theory states that the overwhelming onslaught of thoughts that the mind of the sufferer experiences on a daily basis may be due to a fault in a certain area of the brain which governs the speed of thought processes. The brain of a person who does not suffer from OCD is capable of regulating the number of thoughts and images over a given period of time allowing the brain to effectively sort, categorize, and dismiss certain thoughts and “file” others for later use.
It has been suggested that the brain of an OCD sufferer is not able to effectively perform this, literally leaving the sufferer exposed to an unrelenting barrage of thoughts and images which overwhelms the brain and therefore the person alike. Anecdotal sufferers of OCD who have experienced some form of brain injury which resulted in a subsequent cure, attest to the relevance of this theory. A classic case in point was a man who, deciding he could no longer bear the pain of his severe OCD, decided to shoot himself in the head. Luck intervened, and he survived the ordeal but had damaged a part of his frontal lobe in the process, ironically the part that was causing much of his problem.
Fortunately less drastic forms of help are available to OCD sufferers in the form of drug therapy, primarily antidepressant medication. In addition, exposure and ritual-prevention therapy is also employed. As an example, in the case of a person with obsessive thoughts about germ contamination, the sufferer will be exposed to a germ-laded object, such as a coin, and prevented from washing their hands for increasing periods of time. Improvement is slow and painstaking and both the sufferer and their family and friends need to be aware that this is the norm for this condition.
Apart from therapy, sufferers of OCD are best helped by having understanding and informed family and friends who will assist them to manage this often debilitating disorder.