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Ask the Experts: What is OCD

Ask the Experts with Dr Achal Bhagat



OCD is a very common psychiatric disorder, where you have repetitive thoughts which come to your mind over and over again. Sometimes you know them to be absurd and illogical, but they keep coming back and you have no control over them. The most important thing is that they are coupled with anxiety.  

Each time the thought comes, it brings back with it anxiety, and each time the anxiety brings back with it the thought.  It could be one thought, it could be many doubts or fears. Let me give you some examples. Somebody might have a doubt that their hands are not clean and they might end up cleaning their hands over and over again. Each time, they might still feel that their hands are not clean and might go and wash themselves again. This is a repetitive thought and because its linked with anxiety, it is obsessive.


Obsessive Thoughts

- Repetitive

- Intrusive

- Take over your life

- Provoke Anxiety

The difference between an obsessive thought and a thought that all of us have is that the obsessive thought is repetitive, intrusive. It takes over our life and is anxiety-provoking. One needs to do something about it to address the thought; we cannot just sit idle just having the thought and that’s why its an illness. The second part of washing hands over and over again is the anxiety -- what you do to neutralise the anxiety generated by the thought?
Now the commonest form is the contamination part, but there are many other forms of OCD. For example you’re reading a book and you feel that you’ve not read it well, so you start reading the paragraph again! To the extent that you never finish the page because you keep on going back to the beginning of the paragraph. You could be hoarding things thinking that you might need them later, or you might feel a slightly different form of obsession you might feel that the shape of your nose is not good enough.

Sometimes the compulsions are not behaviours, not actions that we take. Sometimes our compulsions are our thoughts. One of the commonest compulsions is reassurance seeking -- have I done this right? Or is this alright? When one is indecisive, checking over and over again with somebody else whether its been done right or not. Again, we all do it but when it becomes intrusive and takes over our life it becomes a compulsion.


- 2-3 percent of poplulation

- 95 percent of people don't seek help

- Try and seek help if you are distressed by repetitive thoughts

- OCD can start as early as 6-7 years of age

Some studies say OCD is as common as three percent of a population (some say two). Three percent in India! Think of the numbers we are talking about. And the fact is 95 percent of people do not get to seek help because they are too far away from help. OCD could start early, sometimes as early as six or seven years of age. Sometimes people might not seek help till they're 20, when the distress has become so wide and there’s inertia and stagnation in their lives. Don’t let it hang on till that time, come and seek help earlier. Read up about it -- OCD is one of the most commonly quoted diagnosis on the internet.


  • There’s a book that I recommend called Brain Lock by Dr Schwartz that has easy ways of identifying OCD and helping yourself.
  • A website called OCDkids in the UK is a very good website. Check out: Children's OCD guide | OCD-UK 

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ALSO WATCH: Understanding Mental Health with Dr Achal Bhagat

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