Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is characterized by disruptive obsession and compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts that are both unwanted and cause distress. The individual attempts to neutralize them by performing an action. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the individual feels compelled to complete. These acts aim to reduce anxiety and distress, even though they may only be loosely related to the cause of distress or are excessive. The individual may even be aware that the thoughts and actions used to reduce them are unreasonable and unlikely, but they have no power over them. Obsessions and compulsions usually occur together, though only one may be present in some individuals. These obsessions are time consuming or cause significant distress and impairment in several areas of functioning. Obsessions can take up anywhere between 1-3 hours per day in more mild cases, and in more severe cases consuming most of the day. Symptoms cannot be associated with substance use, medications, or be better explained by another mental illness. About 1.2% of Americans have OCD. Treatment consists of typically a combination of medication and psychotherapy, though medication will not work for all cases. Medications for OCD are most commonly antidepressants in high doses. Psychotherapy focuses on reducing anxiety surrounding obsessions and reducing compulsive behaviors. Eventually, after managing the anxiety, the individual will feel less and less anxiety around the obsessions.
Depending on the obsessions and compulsions, OCD can be very disruptive in a lot of different areas. But specific functioning differs between sufferers. Some have problems with relationships because they obsess over losing or hurting loved ones. Some have rituals that make completing school-related tasks difficult or time consuming, such as needing to read each page a certain number of times or anxiety surrounding a task becoming so overwhelming that the task is avoided altogether. Those without OCD have a hard time understanding that these are not made up, that someone with OCD cannot control what they obsess over or what compulsions are needed to reduce anxiety. And because these thoughts can pop up at any time, it is difficult to predict what the student will need to succeed. Many of the more common accommodations are of no use to a student with OCD. Students are encouraged to seek help in managing their symptoms, as this will aide them in the long run for reducing stress. While in college, it may be helpful to contact the disabilities office and set up specific accommodations for what the individual needs to function in college while being treated. Not all accommodations will look the same from one OCD student to the next. This illness is completely manageable, and success in a college environment is very possible.