WARNING: The Embarrassing Bodies website contains images of an explicit medical nature and nudity in a medical context.

NHS Choices Condition

Content supplied by NHS Choices

Many people with OCD can trace some of their anxieties and compulsions back to their childhood. However, the point at which those compulsions start to interfere significantly with their lives is, on average, between the ages of 17 and 20, although it can be as early as five and as late as 70.

The unwelcome and obsessional fears that threaten to become overwhelming as the condition develops vary from person to person, as does the compulsive behaviour that the person uses in an attempt to control these fears.

How much impact OCD has on a person's life depends on the amount of time spent on a compulsive behaviour or ritual, the intensity of the behaviour, and how much of it happens in their mind rather than in their actions.

For example, rituals that involve checking can affect different people in different ways. On leaving the house the person might shut the door behind them and then mentally go over it again and again for much of the day. The worry about whether the door is properly locked won’t leave them, nor will the misery and depression that goes with it. But even when faced with this there are people who manage to hold down demanding jobs.

For others, the behaviour takes up all their focus and when they try to get out of the house they get stuck in the hallway, repeatedly checking the lock. In the most extreme cases, just the idea of going out, and the rituals and anxiety that go with it, can leave a person unable to move for hours.

Naturally, the family members of somebody openly affected by these behaviours want to give all the help they can. For a person who hasn't had mental-health training and is unaware of the treatment options, this usually means trying to share the load. They might take on some of the rituals of a compulsive cleaner or checker, for instance.

While this might seem the natural thing to do, in the end the whole family can find itself endlessly trying to protect the person with OCD from their own fears. This becomes counterproductive: the problem isn’t sorted out and there's no hope of moving on. In this way, the whole family 'suffers from OCD'.

The best response is to help the OCD sufferer seek treatment, and support them in the process of change and recovery. Once a course of therapy is started, the contribution and support of a partner is invaluable.

Sometimes, the person with OCD can feel embarrassed or ashamed and will try to hide their rituals from others. When this involves a physical activity such as hand washing, the first sign that something is wrong could be spending a long time in the bathroom or the appearance of their hands. Less obvious, mental rituals can be harder to spot.

Fortunately, when somebody decides to get help, a good GP will recognise the signs and seek further support from specialists.

More information

OCD Action



view information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on www.nhs.co.uk »

Important Notice

The information provided on this website (including any NHS Choices medical information) is for use as information or for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. We do not warrant that any information included within this site will meet your health or medical requirements. This Embarrassing Bodies site does not provide any medical or diagnostic services so you should always check with a health professional if you have any concerns about your health.

If you want to embed our videos in your site, read our embedding T&Cs here