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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition where a person has obsessional, uncontrollable thoughts and performs compulsive and repetitive actions. It is sometimes called a disorder of 'checking' or 'doubting' as these are both common in OCD.
Obsessions are repetitive and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that cause anxiety and are hard to stop. In fact, trying to stop them, causes more distress.  If you have OCD you know that these things come from your mind, just like other thoughts, images and impulses, but you find them much harder to control.
Compulsions are repeated actions or behaviour that a person feels driven to do, even though they know they are unnecessary or don't make sense. The compulsions are usually linked to obsessional thoughts; that is, performing the compulsion temporarily relieves anxiety and distress caused by the thoughts.
People with OCD are usually aware that their symptoms are irrational and excessive, but they find that they are impossible to resist.

It is important not to mistake OCD for a personality problem. Some people have what could be referred to as obsessional personalities. They are very careful and check things far more thoroughly than most of us - and may be very content to do so.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The main symptoms of OCD are obsessions and compulsions. These may be distressing, exhausting, time wasting and can significantly interfere with a person's normal life.

Common obsessions include severe:
  • Fear of contamination from germs
  • Fear of harm to self or others
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts or images
  • Concerns with symmetry
  • Illness or religious issues
  • Irrational fear of everyday objects or situations
Common compulsions are incessant:
  • Washing and/or cleaning
  • Checking and/or touching and/or counting
  • Hoarding
  • Repeating routine activities and actions

What causes OCD?

The exact cause of OCD is unknown, but there is strong evidence that it has a physical cause in the brain. 
It is also likely that OCD is the result of several interacting factors and is affected by stressful life events, hormonal changes and personality traits.

How many people get OCD?

About 2% of people will experience OCD. Typically, OCD starts gradually, often early in life, and can be a minor irritation for years before developing to a point where it can no longer be denied and requires treatment.

How is OCD treated?

Treatment can help people to manage, reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of OCD. Currently, the most effective treatments are medication, psychotherapy - particularly cognitive behaviour therapy, community support and recovery programmes.
  • Medication can assist the brain to restore its usual chemical balance and help control the obsessions and compulsions
  • Psychotherapy can offer education, insight and lead to alternative ways of managing obsessions and compulsions.
  • Community support programmes are usually available for people with OCD and their family/whanau to give and receive advice and support and learn additional coping strategies.
For more information contact your GP or:
Phobic Trust of NZ
77 Morningside Drive, Mt Eden, Auckland.
Tel: (09) 630 8573 Ext: 815


The following websites provide information on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


A useful NZ website with resource data on most mental illnesses - including OCD.


An international website with data on most mental illnesses.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Support Group

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