A form of anxiety involving the combination of obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily life.

What is obsessive compulsive disorder and what are the symptoms?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety. It involves the combination of obsessions and compulsions that interfere with someone’s daily life. OCD can affect anyone of any gender or age, from all walks of life.

Obsessions are intrusive, repetitive thoughts, impulses or images that are distressing and cannot be ignored. Common examples include thoughts that one is dirty or contaminated, that one has not checked something well enough, unwanted violent or sexual images, or thoughts related to things being out of order.

In response to obsessions, people feel the need to perform compulsions which are actions or mental acts aimed to reduce anxiety from the obsession. These can include washing hands or cleaning, checking and re-checking, counting, touching, ordering or other actions/mental acts.

While some of the above thoughts and actions are common, people with OCD can spend an extraordinary amount of time each day dealing with obsessions and compulsions (i.e. spending hours checking the locks in the house). These symptoms can be very distressing, debilitating and interfering with day-to-day life.

How is obsessive compulsive disorder treated?

OCD is often treated with talk therapy, medications and self-care. The exact treatment course is often decided by an individual in consultation with his or her family doctor.

Talk therapy often includes cognitive behavioural therapy. This treatment helps one identify their obsessions and compulsions, challenge their thoughts, and learn new ways to cope. Treatment often involves slowly exposing one to triggers for obsessions and preventing compulsion thereby breaking the link between them.

For some, medications can also be helpful to treat symptoms. Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to reduce and treat OCD symptoms.

Self-care (e.g. eating a balanced diet, sleeping well at night, regular exercise, socialization and moderated alcohol and drug use) is also an important step in staying healthy. Support from family and friends can also be an important part of treatment.

What should I do to get help?

If you or a friend/family member is suffering with symptoms of OCD, it is important to see your family doctor or speak with a mental health professional available through the mental health and substance use centre in your community.


  • AnxietyBC
    Online resource providing self-help information, community programs and workshops in B.C., resources for parents and caregivers treating anxiety.
  • Here to Help: Anxiety disorders screening test
    This screening self-test looks for symptoms of an anxiety disorder. There are five major types of anxiety disorders: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each disorder is different, but they all affect the way you experience anxiety.
  • Here to Help: Obsessive compulsive disorder
    Info sheets, personal stories and tips to help you understand obsessive compulsive disorder. Resources also available in different languages.
  • HealthLink BC: Obsessive compulsive disorder
    Call 811 or visit healthlinkbc.ca to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including information about obsessive compulsive disorder.