Many people have the misconception that OCD is a disease that only affects adults. However, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can also affect children and adolescents. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD is one of the most common mental health disorders in children and teens.
There are a variety of symptoms that can be associated with OCD in teens. Unfortunately, many people think that OCD is simply a disease that involves cleaning or being obsessive about organization and neatness. However, OCD can manifest in a number of different ways. If you feel your teen might have OCD or you’re worried that you might have obsessive compulsive disorder, know that there is help available through mental health professionals.
What is OCD?
OCD Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by both obsessions and compulsions. It is considered an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder and PTSD. Both obsessions and compulsions create a vicious cycle that becomes increasingly difficult to break free from. It’s important to understand the difference between obsessions and compulsions and how they interact so that you can better understand OCD.
Obsessions are defined as unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause distress and anxiety. Common obsessions include:
- Fear of contamination or germs
- Obsessive worry about one’s health or the health of others
- Excessive concern with order, symmetry, or exactness
- Intrusive thoughts about violence or sex
- Preoccupation with religion or morality
- Superstitious beliefs
- Inability to throw things away (hoarding)
While many people might have thoughts that fall into these categories, people with OCD cannot simply “snap out of it.” These obsessive thoughts are persistent and intrusive and can lead to other mental health issues like depression and panic attacks. They cause a great deal of anxiety and often interfere with daily life. To help get rid of the thoughts, or obsessions, people with OCD will begin to engage in compulsions.
Compulsions, or compulsive behaviors, are repetitive behaviors or mental rituals that a person feels compelled to do in order to ease the anxiety caused by their obsessions. Common compulsions can include obsessive hand washing, needing to check things, or even counting objects.
The compulsions only serve to temporarily relieve the anxiety. The more someone with OCD engages in compulsions, the more control the OCD has over their life, and the worse their mental health condition can be. In addition, it’s important to note that not all compulsions are physical. For instance, reassurance-seeking is a compulsive behavior that many teens with OCD engage in. This can take the form of frequently asking friends or family members if they think something is wrong or if they’re still mad at the person with OCD.
Other teens might struggle with thinking they’re bad or evil if they don’t perform their compulsions. For instance, a teen with religious OCD might believe that if they don’t pray a certain number of times per day, they will go to Hell. This can cause a great deal of anxiety and fear.
As you can see, OCD can take many different forms. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of OCD so that you can get your teen the help they need.
What Causes OCD?
OCD is a mental illness and a neurobiological disorder that is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While the exact cause of OCD is not known, there is evidence to suggest that an imbalance of serotonin in the brain might lead people to develop OCD.
If a teen has a parent that has OCD, they are at a greater risk of developing the disorder. In addition, stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or abuse, can also trigger OCD.
OCD Symptoms in Teens
There are a number of different signs and symptoms that might be indicative of OCD in teens. It’s important to keep in mind that not every teen with OCD will display all of the behaviors listed above. In addition, the severity of OCD can vary from person to person. Some teens might only have mild obsessive thoughts or compulsions, while others might be severely impaired by their OCD.
The most important thing to remember is that if your teen is exhibiting any signs of OCD, struggles with their mental health, or is having difficulty functioning in their daily life, it’s important to seek professional help. A mental health professional will be able to assess your teen’s symptoms and provide them with the treatment they need to manage their OCD.
A mental health professional might look for signs and symptoms of OCD in teens such as:
- Excessive hand-washing, showering, or grooming
- Avoidance of places or activities due to fear of contamination
- Needing to perform certain rituals or routines in a specific order or manner to get rid of unwanted thoughts
- Repeatedly checking things (e.g., locks, appliances) due to fear of something bad happening
- Arranging objects in a specific order or manner
- Intrusive thoughts about violence or sex
- Excessive concern with religion or morality
- Superstitious beliefs
- Difficulty throwing things away
Some of these symptoms might be extremely difficult for teens to admit or talk about. For instance, if a teen has intrusive thoughts about violence, they might be struggling with a subset of OCD known as Harm OCD. This can be an extremely difficult topic for teens to talk about, as they might worry that they’ll be perceived as dangerous or harmful if they confess their thoughts to someone.
It’s important to remember that these thoughts are not indicative of who your teen is as a person. Just because your teen has obsessive thoughts about violence does not mean that they are going to act on these thoughts. However, it is still important to seek professional help so that your teen can learn how to manage their OCD and reduce the impact it has on their life.
In addition, there is still a wide misconception about what OCD truly is, with many people still using the term “I’m so OCD” to describe someone who is neat and tidy. It’s important to educate yourself and your teen about what OCD really is so that you can both better understand the condition and how it affects your teen’s life.
Treatment for OCD
Fortunately, the treatment for OCD is fairly straightforward. The most common and effective treatment for OCD is a type of therapy known as exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP).
During ERP, your teen will work with their therapist to gradually expose themselves to the things they fear or the obsessive thoughts they have. This might involve talking about their fears, thinking about their fears, or even facing them directly in some cases.
For example, if your teen has a fear of contamination, their therapist might have them touch an object they consider to be contaminated and then not wash their hands afterward. This exposure will help your teen to realize that their obsessive thoughts about contamination are irrational and that they can manage their anxiety without needing to perform compulsions.
ERP is usually conducted on an outpatient basis, which means your teen can continue to live at home and go to school or work while they are receiving treatment. In some cases, however, teens with OCD might need to be hospitalized if their condition is severe enough that they are a danger to themselves or others.
Sadly, evidence suggests that people with OCD have a high suicide rate. It’s estimated that around 1% to 2% of people with OCD will die by suicide. This makes it all the more important to seek professional help for your teen if they are struggling with OCD.
Other treatment options for teens with OCD include:
- Medication: There are a number of different medications that can be used to treat OCD and other mental health disorders, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and antipsychotic medications. Other medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These medications can be extremely effective in reducing the symptoms of OCD, but they do not work for everyone. In addition, some of these medications can have side effects, so it’s important to work closely with a doctor or psychiatrist to make sure that the benefits of the medication outweigh any potential risks.
- Family therapy: Family therapy can be an extremely useful tool in treating OCD, as it can help to educate and support family members who are struggling to deal with a teen’s OCD. It can also help to improve communication within the family and provide a space for everyone to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Self-help and support groups: There are a number of different self-help books and support groups available for people with OCD. These can be helpful in providing additional support and information, but they should not be used as a substitute for professional help.
- Sober living homes: In some cases, teens with OCD might need to live in a sober living home. These homes provide a structured and supportive environment for people with mental health disorders, and they can be an effective treatment for OCD. Some people with OCD experience anxiety that might also lead to substance abuse. Sober living homes can provide the support and structure that people with OCD need to recover from their disorder and avoid relapse.
Find Help For your Teen with OCD Today
OCD can be a difficult condition to live with, but fortunately, there are a number of effective treatment options available. If you think your teen might be struggling with OCD, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help or look for mental health treatment centers that can provide specialized OCD treatment.