Supporting someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can often be as hard as what a family member or friend goes through in battling symptoms of the condition. But challenges are meant to be overcome, and with time and effort, you will learn the best way to support someone with OCD.
What is OCD?
“Virtually everyone has experienced worries, doubts or fears at one time or another. It’s natural to worry about life issues such as your health or the well-being of someone you love, paying bills or what the future will bring. Everyone has also an occasional intrusive thought; it’s not even abnormal if you’ve had an intrusive ‘bad’ thought. That’s not OCD.”
Who Gets OCD?
OCD can happen at any age, but typically between the ages of eight and 12, or between late teenage years and young adulthood. It affects between two and three million U.S. adults and slightly more women than men.
It affects nearly 500,000 kids and teens – about the same number of children diagnosed with diabetes. This means that about five kids at the average elementary school have OCD, and about 20 at the typical high school.
How To Support Someone With OCD
There are many challenges to supporting someone with OCD. Like other mental illnesses, it’s a condition with symptoms that overlap with other ailments, is sometimes misdiagnosed, and is often dismissed as personality quirks rather than a legitimate problem. Jokes about OCD are rife in pop culture, and people who experience the symptoms often try and hide them, or don’t even recognize them. But supporting a family member or friend with OCD isn’t only possible, but strongly encouraged. Here are some coping strategies to consider:
- Recognize potential warning signals and treat them seriously. They’re not personality quirks that can easily be dismissed. They may include constant self-judgment, repeated tasks, sleep problems, and many others.
- Understand that changes in daily routine and structure can trigger symptoms. At this point, try and be sympathetic and compassionate, and let your friend or loved one know that you understand what these deviations have jump-started.
- Help the person find the right treatment and be supportive of their efforts to get a diagnosis. Depending on their health and other factors, certain kinds of treatment may work better than others, or a doctor could recommend more than one option at the same time – such as pairing psychotherapy with ketamine infusion.
- Be patient. Everyone with OCD symptoms reacts differently and may respond faster or slower to treatment than someone else. “Slow, gradual improvement may be better in the end if relapses are to be prevented.”
- Acknowledge the person accomplishing something that seems minuscule to you but nonetheless represents a huge improvement for them. This could be as simple as shortening bathing time by several minutes or electing to not check the thermostat multiple times before going to bed.
- Don’t be judgmental. It can be disappointing to learn about the person’s obsessive thoughts, but if you appear shocked or judgmental, they may not confide in you in the future. The person needs to know your love and support comes without strings attached.
- Agree on a strategy that feels right for you and your friend. For example, you might decide to say, “we’re in agreement that I won’t answer certain questions to help you manage your OCD.”
- Be encouraging and challenge compulsions when you think it’d help. For example, you could try to help your friend focus on why they desire to finish a compulsion again instead of offering assurance.
- Hugs, smiles, and other types of emotional support can go a long way.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A medical doctor or mental healthcare specialist will use several tests and diagnostic procedures to diagnose OCD. This may include blood tests, imaging tests, an MRI, self-assessment questionnaires, and by speaking to family and friends if given permission. All tests have the same goal, to uncover an underlying condition triggering the symptoms, whether it’s a medical problem or psychological issue. Symptoms are often compared to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
Once your healthcare provider has confirmed an OCD diagnosis, you can start talking about treatment options, which may include psychotherapy or ketamine infusion.
If you know someone with OCD, the best thing you can do is to offer support, encouragement, and help your family member or friend learn as much about their condition as possible. Contact us today to learn more about innovative treatments helping people across the globe find relief.