Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety disorder that involves constant unwanted thoughts, and often results in the performance of elaborate rituals in an attempt to control or banish the thoughts. The rituals are usually time consuming and seriously interfere with everyday life. For example, people may be constantly driven to wash their hands or continually return home to check that the door is locked or the oven is turned off. People with this disorder are often acutely embarrassed and keep it a secret, even from their families.

Most types of anxiety disorder are characterised by heightened anxiety and fear or panic. Obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are considered types of anxiety disorder, as both feature high levels of stress and anxiety, which people try to control.

What are the signs?


  • Fear of a disease
  • Fear of poisons or germs
  • Fear of hurting or killing someone
  • Fear of forgetfulness
  • Fear of embarrassing oneself


  • Checking
  • Excessive washing or cleaning
  • Repeating actions
  • Saving or hoarding items
  • Placing objects in set patterns
  • Counting

What are the causes?

The exact causes of obsessive compulsive disorder are not known. Genes do play a role and people with OCD tend to have family members with anxiety issues. Learning new things and stress or pressure will contribute to the disorder.

How is obsessive compulsive disorder treated?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is difficult to treat, however prescribed medication can be used. Counselling is designed around management of anxiety symptoms in order to avoid compulsive behaviours. People can learn new coping strategies such as relaxation exercises and different ways of thinking in order to lessen the anxiety they feel.

Reach Out!'s information on OCD

Reach Out! provides information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


OCD information by beyondblue

beyondblue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma. Their information on OCD describes the signs, symptoms and causes.


OCD information in various languages by Mental Health in Multicultural Australia

MHMA provides national leadership in mental health and suicide prevention for Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. MHMA's fact sheet regarding anxiety disorders (including OCD) has been translated into twenty-three different languages.


OCD factsheet by SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. Attached is their factsheet about OCD outlining symptoms, causes and treatment.


For people with a mental health problem, there may be periods of time when things are not manageable. Stress, traumatic events or changes in medication can trigger further symptoms of their illness. 

If you are concerned that your friend is not behaving as they normally would, then it is important to encourage them to talk to someone they trust like their doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. If you think that your friend is likely to hurt themselves or someone else get help immediately even if your friend doesn't want you to.

When someone becomes extremely unwell, it can be distressing and confusing for others, as well as the person concerned. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Communicate clearly in an honest, understanding manner. Do not crowd, rush or unnecessarily touch the person.
  • Provide a calm, safe environment. Move to quieter, more open surroundings. If necessary, remove items with which the person might use to harm themselves or others.
  • Seek help from a doctor, Psychiatric Emergency Team or the police.
  • Try to behave in a quietly confident manner. Be firm but friendly and unthreatening. Reassure that help is on its way.

Fact sheet about helping someone with a mental illness by SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends.  SANE has a fact sheet about assisting someone with a mental illness.

Reference: Reach Out! website

Better Health Channel

Better Health Channel is a Victorian site that provides health and medical information, fact sheets on health conditions, healthy living tips and questions & answers from health experts.



beyondblue is a national, independent, not-for-profit organisation working to address issues associated with depression, anxiety and related substance misuse disorders in Australia.


SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy telephone helpline and website.


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