Someone recently requested I write a column about obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. "I think I might have it," she said.
I thought this was interesting but couldn't dwell on it since I had to be somewhere and needed 10 minutes before leaving the house to make sure the stove was turned off and to unplug the appliances, then check twice more that I had indeed turned off the stove and unplugged the appliances. You know, to prevent fire.
"OCD, huh?" I thought, as I ran back to make sure I had locked the door. "Interesting."
OCD is a common, treatable anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. It's not that far removed from, say, phobia or panic disorder, but it can make us do some strange things.
There's little agreement on what causes people to engage in repetitive ritualistic actions - could be anything from hoarding to counting one's footsteps - but sufferers aren't doomed to repeat these non-useful behaviours for the rest of their lives.
What the experts say
"The difference between OCD and other fears is, instead of being afraid of an actual thing, the person is afraid of the existence of a thought in their mind. Someone with OCD feels a compulsion to fight that thought. Compulsive behaviour is something that people do to reassure themselves that whatever they're worried about is not going to happen. You might call it an active form of avoidance. OCD can take millions of forms, as unique as any individual. There are religious or sexual obsessions. Many claiming to treat OCD don't know what they're doing. Some therapists try to talk the person out of their obsession or convince them it's irrational. This only perpetuates the problem. You only want a therapist who uses exposure and response prevention (ERP). It's physiologically impossible to remain afraid of anything indefinitely if you continue to face it. Medication can be used as an adjunct, but the goal should be to get someone off it."
STEVEN BRODSKY, ocdhotline.com, New York
"The prevalence of mental health disorders has increased in developed countries with the deterioration of the Western diet. Individuals with mental health disorders have nutritional and dietary deficiencies, most commonly omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and amino acids. In the case of OCD, several studies show the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), drugs used as antidepressants. However, two recent double-blind, placebo-controlled studies put SSRIs and St. John's wort to the test. Both studies found St. John's wort was significantly more effective in reducing OCD symptoms and less likely to induce side effects than commonly prescribed SSRIs Paxil and Prozac."
SHAHEEN LAKHAN, medical scientist, exec director, Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, Los Angeles, California
"We found that children were having their onset of OCD at age eight or under. This tells us that young children can exhibit full-blown OCD. It doesn't mean that all children in this age range who are showing symptoms have OCD, because kids in this age range are prone to normal developmental rituals like repetitive play activity - building a tower and knocking it down or asking a parent to read the same story three times. Some would say the fact that OCD starts young means these kids are predisposed, but this study doesn't speak to the cause. There's been a lot of research, and the consensus is that it's probably multi-factorial. There's probably a role for genetics and a role for stress."
ABBE GARCIA, assistant professor (research), Brown Medical School, staff psychologist, Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center, Providence, Rhode Island
"Kunzite is the perfect crystal for OCD. It has a high amount of lithium to balance out emotional distresses and erratic behaviour. It opens the heart chakra to connect with the mind and to relax mental imbalances. Lepidolite is a crystal to help relax physical symptoms like twitches and reduce stress leading to other repetitive activities like handwashing. Both these crystals can be worn together at the heart centre and are more effective if worn all the time."
KAREN RYAN, The Crystal Tiger, Toronto