Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

girl sitting with hand on head thinking hard

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by repeating, intrusive, distressing, unwanted thoughts (obsessions), images or feelings. The distress caused by these result in calming rituals which can be time-consuming and become compulsive as it is felt these have to be done or something bad will happen.

OCD occurs in about one per cent of the population and is therefore fairly common, which means it is helpful for school staff to know about it.

What are the signs of OCD?

Children that have OCD often

  • Have horrible thoughts repeatedly
  • Suffer extreme anxiety and overthink
  • Get powerful urges to do something to stop these thoughts and feelings
  • Feel a temporary relief after rituals
  • Need reassurance or get others to check things for them

Examples of rituals:

  • Writing school work a certain way
  • Arranging books, pencils or belongings in a particular way
  • Repeatedly checking belongings, light switches, doors, windows, taps
  • Repeated handwashing

Managing these thoughts and suppressing the behaviours can be distracting, exhausting and embarrassing. He or she may be very keen to keep their anxiety a secret, as they understand that OCD is irrational.

How OCD might affect a young person in school

The following might be a reason to suspect that a young person has OCD (although they could all be signs of other difficulties):

  • School refusal
  • Frequent lateness – carrying out rituals may mean the person is delayed for lessons
  • Easily distracted with difficulties concentrating – he or she may be distracted by intrusive thoughts
  • Checking and repeating work very frequently
  • Separation anxiety from family members – if the obsession is that a family member is at risk
  • Low self-esteem
  • Problems getting along with peers
  • Repeatedly asking to leave the room – they may be carrying out rituals outside the classroom
  • Difficulties with sitting for a long period of time
  • Poor handwriting
  • Difficulties with consistent or flexible thinking

Helping a young person with OCD in school

Please see your GP for referral to the EWMHS

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