Helping someone with OCD can be a challenging task, but you can take the time to make a difference in their life with these suggestions.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a powerful mental health condition capable of manipulating someone’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Not only does the disorder impact the person living with the disorder, but it can also affect that person’s friends, loved ones, co-workers and classmates.
If someone you know has the condition, you might feel the urge to help them in any way you can. Even though OCD is a disorder best treated with professional care, there are still ways you can help your loved one with OCD.
Learn About OCD
When confronting any mental health condition, learning about the condition is the best place to begin. Just because you saw OCD portrayed in shows or movies does not mean you truly understand the condition or the impact it has on the person with it.
Like all mental health conditions, OCD has a set of signs and symptoms a person must display to qualify for the diagnosis. Unlike other conditions, OCD can appear very different from person to person, so keeping an open mind will help increase your understanding of the disorder.
To gather more information, spend a lot of time listening to your loved one. Try to understand what they are going through and how OCD makes them act and feel. At this point, do not try to change their behaviors or challenge their ways of thinking. Offer love, interest and empathy to learn about their unique experience and reduce any secrecy they use to cover their symptoms.
Without an accurate understanding of your loved one’s daily struggles, you will be unable to help in the long-term. Worse, if you misunderstand the condition or their experience, you could increase their symptoms while damaging your relationship.
Along the way, don’t overstep. It is not your job to treat your loved one. You only need to focus on being a caring, loving support who they can use in their treatment and recovery. If you try to do too much, your loved one could push back.
Recognize the Signs of OCD
Once you understand your loved one’s life with OCD, you can read up on what the experts say about the condition. Symptoms and signs of OCD include obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts or images that create some level of stress and anxiety. Because the thoughts are so uncomfortable, the person tries to avoid or counteract them with a thought or action.
Compulsions are the actions people feel driven to perform to control the obsessions or stop the obsessions from becoming a reality. The link between the obsession and the compulsion makes sense to the individual but will seem unconnected or unrealistic to an outsider.
For example, a person could have obsessions about a loved one getting cancer, so they will create the compulsion of turning on and off a light switch three times to manage the fear. To your loved one, the association is real, but you realize there is no way a light switch could prevent cancer.
Compulsions involve a wide range of repetitive behaviors or mental acts like:
- Checking and double checking
- Tapping and touching
- Repeating words or phrases to self
Many people may have mild obsessions or compulsions, but they can function throughout the day. A noteworthy sign of diagnosable OCD is the condition’s ability to consume large amounts of time in the person’s day. Because of the time needed to complete compulsions, the person may:
- Fail to complete tasks at home, school or work
- Be late to appointments frequently
- Avoid scheduling events or committing to plans
- Seem distracted and stressed
- Never leave their room or home
Knowing what your loved one is going through and understanding the basics of OCD puts you in a position to speak on the topic with some authority. Feel free to discuss what you observe with the important person in your life. As long as you approach the situation from a stance of love and genuine concern, you can form a team to combat OCD.
Know Where to Get Help for OCD
OCD is a serious condition, but one that can be effectively treated with professional mental health services. It is best to leave OCD treatment to professionals experienced with the disorder.
The standard OCD treatment involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy to provide the best results. Medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help allow more of a chemical called serotonin available in the brain, which helps reduce OCD symptoms. It is essential to practice patience when starting medication for OCD, since it may take three months to receive the full benefit from the prescribed medication.
The psychotherapy for OCD could involve your loved one meeting one-on-one with a therapist to discuss OCD or meeting with a group of people who share their condition to gain insights. In either case, just like with medications, psychotherapy for OCD takes time.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the primary psychotherapy used to treat OCD. One form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention specifically helps reduce compulsions. These CBT treatments focus on allowing the person to experience the obsessions without performing the compulsion while understanding the connections between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Doing this breaks the faulty connection between obsessions and compulsions.
The treatments for OCD can be stressful and frustrating to your loved one, so your ability to encourage treatment and provide support will be a great way to help.
If you have OCD that co-occurs with a substance use disorder, consider calling The Recovery Village. Seeking treatment for OCD and co-occurring disorders at the same time can be the key to a successful recovery.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013.
MentalHealth.gov. “For Friends and Family Members.” September 26, 2017. Accessed on February 11, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” January 2016. Accessed on February 11, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.