Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a destructive and distressing mental illness that can cause a variety of challenges and hindrances in an individual’s life, no matter his or her age. Defined by pervasive anxious feelings and intrusive obsessions and compulsions, OCD can stop young individuals from being able to carry out even the simplest of tasks.
The obsessive thoughts that are included in OCD can ruminate in a young individual’s mind until something is done from a behavioral standpoint to decrease the anxiety brought on by these thoughts. However, regardless of the actions or measures taken by the sufferer to reduce his or her anxiety, obsessions rarely go away. The compulsive aspect of OCD can cause a young individual to give in to urges and participate in ritualistic behaviors as a means of lessening anxiety.
Luckily, children and adolescents with OCD do not have to stay trapped in this pattern of having obsessions and giving in to compulsions. There are appropriate and effective options for care that can help reduce the symptoms of OCD and help young individuals obtain skills that will help them cope with overwhelming anxiety. Parents and caregivers of these young individuals who provide treatment will help them understand that it is possible to live a life that is not burdened by intrusive thoughts, anxieties, and repetitive behaviors.
While the common age of onset of OCD is 19, young individuals under that age have been known to struggle with this mental health condition. Roughly 25% of those who experience symptoms linked to OCD show signs and symptoms around age 14. It has been determined through research that children of pre-school age can also struggle with symptoms of OCD.
Causes and Risk Factors for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
To fully understand the causes behind an OCD diagnosis, it is important to know how genes, one’s physiological composition, and one’s environment can impact the development of this disorder. The following, as well as other risk factors, can serve as influences that can lead to the development of OCD in a child or adolescent:
Genetic: If a child or adolescent has a biological parent who has OCD, his or her likelihood of developing those symptoms are high. Possessing a family history of specific anxiety disorders can also cause a young individual to be more susceptible to showing symptoms of OCD. This disorder does in fact hold a genetic component.
Physical: The obsessions and compulsions included in OCD have the potential to impact specific chemicals in the brain. Neurotransmitters that control emotions and help an individual with his or her impulses are negatively affected when these chemicals become imbalanced. When this occurs, symptoms of OCD can develop.
Environmental: Traumatic experiences or being the victim of neglect and/or abuse can bring on the development of OCD. In addition, other environmental influences, like the lack of a caregiver’s presence during the early stages of a child’s development, can lead to the onset of these symptoms. This is believed by developmental specialists who have recognized these environmental factors in the lives of those who have OCD.
- Exposure to chronic stress or trauma
- Being the victim of crime
- Having caregivers who were not involved during childhood
- Partaking in unhealthy relationships
- Experiencing the unexpected loss of a loved one
- Experiencing abrupt life changes
- Personal history of being abused or neglected
- Having a poor support system
- Family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health condition(s)
- Personal history of another mental health condition(s)
Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
When a child or an adolescent struggles with OCD, he or she often battles obsessions and compulsions. Sometimes, however, a young individual will be challenged with one set of symptoms more than the other. It is critical to recognize either type of symptoms and obtain appropriate treatment so that a young individual with the following symptoms can obtain relief:
Obsessive symptoms: Below are the obsessive symptoms of OCD. These symptoms are often unwanted and can cause an individual to engage in compulsive behaviors:
- Overwhelming feelings of responsibility for others
- Irrational, excessive, and specific worries about arrangement or symmetry of objects
- Intense fears pertaining to risk of contamination
- Impulsions to be aggressive, though these impulsions are more ideas than actions
- Disturbing thoughts that are graphic in nature
Compulsive symptoms: The compulsive symptoms of OCD, which include behaviors that are aimed to reduce one’s anxiety, can include:
- Repeatedly washing one’s hands or bathing
- Ritualistic eating habits
- Spending a great deal of time rearranging items
- Excessive cleaning
- Frequently checking to make sure something remains in a state that eases perceived anxiety
- Repetitious speech
- Frequently checking to make sure something has been done
Effects of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Failing to seek treatment for the symptoms of OCD can be severely damaging to an individual’s wellbeing. If OCD symptoms remain or become worse, the following effects can develop, which can add even more challenges to a child or adolescent’s life:
- Suicidal ideation
- Attempts at suicide
- Development of another mental health condition
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Inability to obtain and maintain steady employment
- Development of a substance abuse problem
- Decline in academic functioning
- Academic failure
The obsessive and compulsive symptoms of OCD can lead to the development of other mental health conditions. This is because OCD can trigger the onset of symptoms consistent with other mental health issues. In addition, some mental disorders can cause the symptoms of OCD to become noticeable over time. Below are some co-occurring disorders that are known to exist alongside OCD:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
- Tic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Panic disorder
- Depressive disorders