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A person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experiences obsessive recurrent thoughts or images which disturb them and make them anxious. To relieve these unpleasant feelings, they may feel obliged to carry out repetitive behaviours.

OCD is a mental health condition made up of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges or doubts that keep appearing in your mind and which can make you feel anxious. Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety – for example, repeatedly washing your hands (if worried about contamination) or checking the door is locked (if worried about intruders). For some people, it may delay them for an hour or so, or completely take over their life.

Some people think OCD is about being tidy. But as the charity Mind points out, it’s about having poor control over your negative thoughts and being afraid that not doing things a certain way will cause harm.

OCD usually occurs in adults or in children from puberty. It isn’t known why some children have OCD, but scientists think genetics may have a part to play. Children don’t always talk about the fears and behaviours that OCD causes because they feel embarrassed or confused. They may try to hide their rituals, even though the rituals may be the only thing that makes them feel ‘everything is all right.’

Symptoms of OCD in children include finding it hard to concentrate on schoolwork or to enjoy activities; feeling irritable, upset, sad or anxious; having trouble making decisions; taking a long time to do everyday tasks like getting washed or dressed; getting upset if something isn’t perfect or isn’t just the way they think it should be.

Many young people with OCD have other mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. People with eating disorders often have OCD too.

Diagnosis and treatment

OCD can be treated by medication or by cognitive behavioural therapy, so it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor should refer you to a specialist at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), who will find out more about the child before making a diagnosis. Parents are usually asked to get involved in the therapy too as parents can be taught how to respond to OCD situations in a way that will support their child’s progress.

Further information

For further information, visit

The national charities are OCD Action, OCD-UK and TOP UK.

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