Do I have obsessive compulsive disorder?

Dr. Joti Samra


The question

I have recently started checking and rechecking certain things, such as making sure that I've turned off the stove or locked the door, sometimes four or five times. Is this normal?

The answer

Virtually all behaviours – obsessive and compulsive behaviours included – exist on a continuum of severity level, and most people will experience mild forms of most “psychological” symptoms at some point in their life.

Checking and rechecking behaviours are very common, and not necessarily of concern unless they take up a significant period of your time, get in the way of you being able to do other things in your life, and create ongoing distress or anxiety.

Only about 2 per cent of the adult population will experience clinical levels of these symptoms that would constitute a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). True OCD has some very clear markers. First, there are persistent, repetitive and intrusive/interfering thoughts (obsessions), behaviours (compulsions) or both.

Try to identify other stressors in your life at the current time, and work to resolve those. It can also be very helpful to actively set limits on the number of times you check or re-check (e.g., setting a maximum limit of 2 or 3 times) as this can effectively reduce the behaviour.

If you find your symptoms may meet criteria for a diagnosis of OCD, speak to a family doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. There are very effective treatments for OCD.

For most, a combination of cognitive-behavioural therapy (incorporating a treatment approach called “exposure/response prevention”) and medication treatment can lead to very positive improvements in symptoms.

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