What is OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It can be serious, but it is treatable.
People with OCD have repeating thoughts, images or feelings that are distressing. These are sometimes known as ‘obsessions’ or ‘obsessive thoughts’. Sometimes when our mind is filled with very upsetting thoughts, we can try to take actions that will bring us relief and make the thoughts go away. We might start to believe that these actions will get rid of our anxiety or make these thoughts go away. Sometimes having rituals that calm us down can be really helpful. But sometimes these rituals or habits become ‘compulsions’, meaning that we think we have to do them. We might start to believe that if we don’t do them, something bad will happen to us, or to the people around us.
It’s important to realise that with OCD, often our compulsive habits or rituals end up making us feel worse. This is because once the ritual is finished, anxious thoughts come rushing back again, sometimes even more extreme. This is how some people get trapped in a cycle of doing the same action again and again, feeling unable to stop.
OCD rituals can be obvious to other people (like checking if doors are locked) or they can happen inside your head (like counting things, or trying to counteract negative thoughts with positive ones).
There is a misconception that ‘being OCD’ is just about being tidy and ordered. This is not true. OCD thoughts can come in all shapes and sizes and involve lots of different types of habits and rituals. They often revolve around things like danger, dirt and contamination, or worries around sexuality or religion. Some people feel guilty, or even ashamed of their thoughts.
The symptoms of OCD
You might feel:
- your mind being 'invaded' by horrible thoughts repeatedly
- scared, disgusted, guilty, tearful, doubtful or depressed
- a powerful urge to do something to stop the feelings
- temporary relief after rituals
- a need to ask for reassurance or get people to check things for you
Just because you experience one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re definitely affected by OCD. It’s important to talk to your GP to get more help.
Things that can really help
If obsessive thoughts and habits start to take over your life, or cause you physical difficulties or harm, then there are things you can do.
1. Notice what is going on
It is important to recognise when your behaviour is making you feel worse. Knowing that what you are doing is increasing your anxiety, rather than helping it, is the first step to overcoming it.
2. Talk to someone you trust
Talking about how you feel is the first step towards getting better. It might be difficult to explain, but people who care about you will want to support you. You could try talking to a relative, teacher, friend, counsellor or helpline.
Let the people know what you find helpful. Whether you just want someone to listen, or you need someone to help distract you when you’re feeling anxious, it’s ok to say what you need.
If you’re not sure who to talk to, take a look at our guide to support and the organisations listed at the end of this page.
3. Find a distraction that works for you
Whenever you feel like you are getting anxious, or about to do something you don’t want to do, find a distraction. You could try:
- listening to music
- texting a friend
- going for a walk
4. Go to see your GP
It's important not to try and manage alone, as OCD normally needs treatment to get better. Your doctor will be able to help you get that treatment. They may offer to refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), an expert or a psychiatrist who can help you.
Others like you share their tips and advice on OCD:
For advice on dealing with OCD, as well as real stories on living with it, visit our blogs:
You might be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) using a technique called exposure response prevention (ERP), which helps you feel less upset by your thoughts. You might also be offered other types of psychological therapy such as counselling or family therapy, and you might be given support from specialist Mental Health Nurses, Occupational Therapists and Art Therapists working in CAMHS.
There are medications that can help too, e.g. antidepressants.
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.
Text: YM to 85258
Opening times: 24/7
Supports people struggling with panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety-related issues.
Offers a specialist youth helpline for people aged 13-20. The opening hours are 3pm - 6pm, Monday - Friday; 6pm - 8pm, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Call 01952 680835 for a recorded breathing exercise to help you through a panic attack (available 24/7).
Information about call costs here.
Phone: 0300 772 9844
Email: [email protected]
Opening times: 10am - 10pm, 365 days a year
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
Phone: 0800 1111
Opening times: 9am - midnight, 365 days a year