Name  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Related to/Also known as 
Symptoms of OCD

OCD is a mental health condition. Mental health conditions are problems with the way you think or feel.

Neurological conditions are problems with your brain or nervous system. Neurological conditions can sometimes lead to mental health problems.

"People with OCD experience unwanted obsessions which take the form of persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, although obsessions can sometimes be persistent images, impulses, worries, fears or doubts or a combination of all these. They’re always intrusive, unwanted, disturbing and most importantly significantly interfere with the sufferers ability to function on a day-to-day basis as they are incredibly difficult to ignore. The word ‘obsession’ comes from the Latin ‘obsidere’ which means ‘to besiege’. The problem is that the person with OCD will become besieged by the obsessive thoughts. .... Naturally the sufferer neither wants nor welcomes the obsessional thoughts which cause such deep anguish and despair, the person being besieged will go to extreme lengths to block and resist them. Invariably they return within a short period of time, often lasting hours if not days, which can leave the person both mentally and physically exhausted and drained. People with OCD usually realise that their obsessional thoughts are irrational, but at the same time feels so very real and they believe the only way to relieve the anxiety caused by them is to perform compulsive behaviours (which includes avoidance and seeking reassurance). These compulsive behaviours are carried out to prevent perceived harm happening to themselves or, more often than not to a loved one, even when there is no correlation between their thoughts and compulsive behaviour. For those without OCD it can be hard to understand what drives a person to seemingly nonsensical behaviours (or worries) for hours at a time. So if we were to suggest something horrific happening to a loved one, something so terrible you dare not contemplate such awfulness for even the briefest of moments, then understanding the fact that for a person affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder such horrible intrusive thoughts plague them constantly throughout the day, the person without OCD may have the briefest of insights into what’s going on with someone with OCD and why such nonsensical behaviours are carried out to prevent the perceived danger from becoming a reality. To try and illustrate this point a little more graphically, when teaching mental health professionals about OCD, teaching professors will often conduct a little experiment with their audience, starting out by asking the audience to agree with a statement that saying something or thinking something doesn’t mean it will come true, that our thoughts are not magical and can’t make things happen. For example, thinking about winning the lottery and how your life will change doesn’t mean you will win the lottery. The teaching expert will then go on to ask the audience, which we have seen include trained clinical psychologist and psychiatrists, to write down the name of a loved one on a bit of paper and then further add a statement about something horrific happening to that person. Despite all those highly qualified doctors moments previously agreeing that thinking or saying something doesn’t mean it will magically come true, they’re nearly always all unable to write down the specific statement about something horrific happening to their loved one, or those that do then destroy that bit of paper into lots and lots of tiny little shreds. This exercise perfectly illustrates two things to help people understand Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, firstly the power of a single unwanted intrusive thought (obsession) to cause such distress and secondly how such thoughts can lead to seemingly nonsensical compulsions (i.e. ripping the piece of paper into many shreds). With OCD what’s important to note is that these obsessional thoughts are repetitive and are not voluntarily produced. With OCD what’s important to note is that these obsessional thoughts are repetitive and are not voluntarily produced, which in itself causes more distress to the sufferer. All obsessional thoughts (regardless of content) usually produce a sense of discomfort, or a ‘feeling’ of unease. Some people describe it to be an increase or trigger of anxiety, but for others it is simply that ‘feeling’ of general unease, tension and/or discomfort. Sometimes, especially in the case of harm or sexual related intrusive thoughts the person will struggle to identify the difference between their obsessive thoughts and reality, mistakenly believing that because they have had the thought it somehow means the thoughts are a desire they want to act on. It’s important to understand that in the case of some of the more extreme obsessive thoughts of a violent or sexual nature, ... that the thoughts do not precede intent. More on this in a later chapter when we discuss risk assessment in OCD for health professionals. The brain is a powerful organ, and in many types of OCD, especially those focused on themes around sexuality it can cause parts of our body to react when we focus on our thoughts, even if we desperately don’t want it to. For example if we tell you to focus on your left foot, think about your left foot and chances are you will feel a little tingly feel in your left foot. So for those people with OCD whose obsessional fear is about inappropriate sexual acts may find their body causes physical reactions to their genitals. This is perfectly normal, and should not alarm the person suffering or a health professional treating someone with this form of OCD, it doesn’t indicate sexual orientation and preferences, it simply means our thoughts are leading to involuntary and unwanted bodily sensations. To sufferers and non-sufferers alike, the thoughts and fears related to OCD can often seem profoundly shocking, however it must be stressed again that they are just thoughts, and they are not voluntarily produced. Neither are they fantasies or impulses which will be acted upon. What we do know is that people living with OCD are the least likely people to actually act on such thoughts. In these cases it is perhaps worth mentioning that evidence shows us that obsessional thoughts are quite common in the general population, not just for those that suffer with OCD. ...hit’s not the thought itself that is the problem, it is the way people interpret and deal with the thought, ... the types of obsessive fears ...


"Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. It has two main parts: obsessions and complusions.

  • Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as 'mental discomfort' rather than anxiety).
  • Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, repeating a specific phrase in your head or checking how your body feels."

Source: Mind

• The British Deaf Association has information in BSL about OCD .

Useful national contacts

• The Brain Charity can offer counselling for OCD

OCD Action
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Phone: 03006365478 
• The Liverpool OCD Support Group meets at The Brain Charity

Tel. 03332 120 703 Support tel. 03332 127 890

TOP UK: The OCD and Phobia Charity
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Phone: 01225 571740

Children & young people

PANS PANDAS (UK); PANS is a neuropsychiatric condition in children with OCD
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All About OCD (OCD Youth)
For 16-20 year olds who think they might have OCD
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OCD Youth
News, stories, and blog posts from the OCD Action Youth Advisory Panel.
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OCD (Young Minds charityLink opens in new window)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in children and young people: information for parents and carers (Royal College of Psychiatrists)
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Online resources

OCD and Coronavirus (OCD UK)
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Coronavirus and your wellbeing (Mind)
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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) (NHS Choices)
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OCD brains 'are different' (NHS Choices)
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OCD and PTSD – and the relationship between the two (PTSD UK)
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Obsessive compulsive disorder and driving (GOV.UK)
You must tell the DVLA if your obsessive compulsive disorder affects your driving
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OCD in Diverse Populations Resource Center (International OCD Foundation)
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News and events


Our resources

Obsessive Compulsive Disoder: The Facts The library at The Brain Charity has a range of resources on OCD and on a wide range of disability-related issues. Visit our library to read the book Obsessive Compulsive Disoder: The Facts by Stanley Rachmen and Padmal De Silva.

Or have a Link opens in new window look in your local library for this book.
WorldCat website