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A guide for young people OCD

Having the same distressing thoughts and urges again and again can be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. Find out more about OCD and what to do if you're affected by it.

What is OCD?

Instagram artwork by @Mossfolk. Pink textured background with red writing that reads 'OCD Is Not Perfectionism'.

Artwork credit: @mossfolk. The artwork depicts a light pink background with smaller dark pink swipes across the background. On top of the background, it reads in red: 'OCD is NOT perfectionism'.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It can be serious, but it is treatable.

People with OCD have repeating thoughts, images or feelings that are distressing. These are sometimes known as ‘obsessions’ or ‘obsessive thoughts’. Sometimes when our mind is filled with very upsetting thoughts, we can try to take actions that will bring us relief and make the thoughts go away. We might start to believe that these actions will get rid of our anxiety or make these thoughts go away. Sometimes having rituals that calm us down can be really helpful. But sometimes these rituals or habits become ‘compulsions’, meaning that we think we have to do them. We might start to believe that if we don’t do them, something bad will happen to us, or to the people around us.

It’s important to realise that with OCD, often our compulsive habits or rituals end up making us feel worse. This is because once the ritual is finished, anxious thoughts come rushing back again, sometimes even more extreme. This is how some people get trapped in a cycle of doing the same action again and again, feeling unable to stop.

OCD rituals can be obvious to other people (like checking if doors are locked) or they can happen inside your head (like counting things, or trying to counteract negative thoughts with positive ones).

OCD is not just about being tidy

There is a misconception that ‘being OCD’ is just about being tidy and ordered. This is not true.

OCD thoughts can come in all shapes and sizes and involve lots of different types of habits and rituals. They often revolve around things like danger, dirt and contamination, or worries around sexuality or religion.

Some people feel guilty, or even ashamed of their thoughts. But it is common to have thoughts like these, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

  • There is a focus on people with OCD being complete “clean freaks”, which is a common misconception. OCD is about control and anxiety - only a small percentage actually find comfort in cleanliness.
  • People with OCD have repeating thoughts, feelings or images that cause them distress – that’s the obsession part. And they have certain behaviours or rituals that make them feel better – that’s the compulsion part.

The symptoms of OCD


Common symptoms of OCD include feeling:

  • like your mind is being 'invaded' by horrible thoughts repeatedly
  • scared, disgusted, guilty, tearful, doubtful or depressed
  • a powerful urge to do something to stop the feelings
  • temporary relief after rituals
  • a need to ask for reassurance or get people to check things for you

Just because you experience one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re definitely affected by OCD. It’s important to talk to your GP to get more help.

How to speak to your GP

Things that can really help

It is important to recognise when your behaviour is making you feel worse. Knowing that what you are doing is increasing your anxiety, rather than helping it, is the first step to overcoming it.

Talking about how you feel is the first step towards getting better. It might be difficult to explain, but people who care about you will want to support you. You could try talking to a relative, teacher, friend, counsellor or helpline.

Let the people know what you find helpful. Whether you just want someone to listen, or you need someone to help distract you when you’re feeling anxious, it’s ok to say what you need.

If you’re not sure who to talk to, take a look at our guide to support and the organisations listed at the end of this page.

Your guide to support

Whenever you feel like you are getting anxious, or about to do something you don’t want to do, find a distraction. You could try:

  • listening to music
  • texting a friend
  • going for a walk

It's important not to try and manage alone, as OCD normally needs treatment to get better. Your doctor will be able to help you get that treatment. They may offer to refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), an expert or a psychiatrist who can help you.

Guide to CAMHS
Instagram artwork by @ThePositivityPages. Text that reads 'OCD Is Not Just There When You See Someone Performing Compulsions'.

Artwork credit: @thepositivitypages. The artwork depicts an orange background, in front the words are highlighted in orange: 'OCD is not just' the text carries on underneath in white 'there when you can see someone' the final line of the text is also highlighted in orange 'performing compulsions'.

  • There are many other people who go through the same situation. Even though your family and friends may not understand to the fullest, they're always there for you and will try their best to support you.
  • OCD is misunderstood frequently and is difficult to deal with. But it's completely beatable with good therapy and sometimes, medication.
  • Know that your illness does not define you. Make the choice to counteract it and know you're worthy of a life without it.
  • Try your best to talk to someone you can rely on. It's easier said than done (I know), but once find that person - no matter who it is to confide in, you won't regret it.
  • It's okay. There's no need to worry, take a deep breath. Your family is safe, you're safe, and your friends are safe. Nothing is going to happen, sit down and relax.
  • Those negative thoughts aren't real, it's hard to control them but ignore them. Your body is just trying to help.

Treating OCD

You might be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) using a technique called exposure response prevention (ERP), which helps you feel less upset by your thoughts.

You might also be offered other types of psychological therapy such as counselling or family therapy, and you might be given support from specialist Mental Health Nurses, Occupational Therapists and Art Therapists working in CAMHS.

There are medications that can help too, e.g. antidepressants

Find out more about medications
With the correct combination of professional treatment and support, people with OCD can improve their condition and recover.
close up of a girl with long hair and one hand on chin listening to a person in front of her
With my therapist, I learnt ways to combat my thoughts and ways to cope.
When times are tough, know that whatever you are going through right now, it isn’t permanent. You have reserves of strength you don’t even know about.

Get help now

Where to get help

OCD can be really hard to cope with, so please don't struggle alone. Here are some services that can help and support you.