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OCD is a condition where a person habitually counterbalances a thought, that causes acute distress and fear of possible consequences, with an action. For example, a persistent fear that the sufferer’s child will get sick and die, counterbalanced by excessive cleaning and other rituals which could be around the child’s feeding, washing and play to prevent that fear becoming reality. This creates a difficult to break cycle.

​​That the person realizes the thoughts and the need to follow them with an action is illogical and unnecessary adds to the psychological impact of OCD as a debilitating illness that can devastate family, social and working life.

​There are an estimated 89,450 OCD sufferers in Northern Ireland (one in five of the population) but with appropriate, effective and consistent treatment OCD can be overcome.

Obsessions & Compulsions

Obsessions are persistent and intrusive impulses, ideas, images or thoughts that create excessive anxiety and distress.

Compulsions are mental acts or repetitive behaviours that are performed in response to an obsession in order to relieve anxiety.

Because compulsive rituals don't provide anxiety relief permanently, over time, the person with OCD may need to increase and change rituals in order to feel relief. OCD sufferers may experience compulsions as a glitch or feeling that their brain is "stuck in gear."

Ritualistic behaviour, such as prayer, may be a normal part of life for many people, and some worries are rational and necessary to protect us from danger. It is only when obsessions and compulsions are irrational, cause distress, take up time (more than an hour a day), and negatively impact daily functioning (work, social life, etc.) that an individual should seek professional help.


The Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Symptom Checklist categorises OCD symptoms in the following way:

  • ​Aggressive Obsessions: fears of causing harm to self or others or doing something embarrassing, like blurting out obscenities.


  • Contamination Obsessions: excessive fear of dirt, germs, chemicals, bodily fluids or animals. Also, an excessive fear of getting sick from different contaminants.


  • Sexual Obsessions: forbidden or perverse intrusive sexual thoughts that might involve children or aggressive acts.


  • Hoarding or Saving Obsessions


  • Religious Obsessions: excessive concern with right and wrong and /or sacrilege or blasphemy


  • Miscellaneous Obsessions: include fears of certain numbers, colours, losing things or not saying just the right thing.

  • Somatic Obsessions: include fear of getting sick or a preoccupation with a certain part of one's appearance.

  • Cleaning or Washing Compulsions: behaviours performed in response to contamination obsessions and may include excessive hand washing, showering and avoidance of contaminants.

  • Checking Compulsions: behaviours performed in response to aggressive obsessions and involve checking to make sure things are turned off (stove, lights) or that people are not harmed. Also, people with OCD sometimes check to make sure that they did not make a mistake.

  • Repeating Compulsions: behaviours repeated over and over again in order to produce anxiety relief.

  • Counting Compulsions: behaviours such as counting up to a certain number, counting a certain number of times or avoiding certain numbers in order to produce relief from anxiety.


  • Ordering and Arranging Compulsions

  • Hoarding and Collection Compulsions

  • Miscellaneous Compulsions: includes list making, touching, tapping and rubbing things, and rituals involving blinking and staring.

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