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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Most of us have had times when we find ourselves thinking about something constantly. We might daydream about someone or something, get a catchy tune stuck in our heads, or worry that we forgot to lock the door before leaving for work. Maybe we have a “lucky” sweater that we wear because we think it will help us win a game or pass a test.

Repetitive thoughts, worries and rituals like these have a definite place in our lives. But when these thoughts and actions begin to impact your everyday life it may be a sign of something more serious: a mental illness called obsessive-compulsive disorder.

On this page:

What is it?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a type of anxiety disorder. As its name suggests, obsessive-compulsive disorder is made up of two parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and distressing thoughts, ideas, images or impulses that happen over and over again. Compulsions are the behaviours, rituals or mental acts that you do to ease the anxiety caused by the obsessions. For example, you are always worried that you’ll forget to turn off all the appliances before you leave the house so you check all of them over and over before you leave. You might worry that if you forget to turn off an appliance, the house will catch on fire. Your worry is the obsession and repeatedly checking the appliances is the compulsion.


Could I have OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can look very different from person to person. Below are two separate lists: one of obsessions, one of compulsions. For each different obsession or compulsion we’ve given an example of what it might look like. These are examples only and your obsessions and compulsions may look or feel quite different.

Remember obsessions are unwanted, repetitive thoughts that keep popping into your mind. Do you find yourself having constant thoughts like one or more of the following?

The behaviours, or compulsions, below are just some of the things you may do because of obsessive thoughts. Compulsions usually fall into certain categories. Do you find yourself:


Ordering/ Arranging:




Mental Rituals:

Need to Confess:

Now don’t forget that some of these behaviours are pretty common. Double-checking if the front door is locked doesn’t mean you have OCD. In order for this to be a sign that you may have OCD, these behaviours have to be happening often enough to impact your life in a big way. For example, are you going back to check that you locked the door so often that you’re always late for work? Are you spending hours each day on cleaning or counting or ordering rituals? Are your behaviours getting in the way of spending time with your loved ones? Are the behaviours related to the obsessive thoughts you’re having? Do the obsessions and compulsions feel out of control? Do they cause you distress?


Who does it affect?

Because of the stigma and shame that some people experience because of their OCD, people often won’t tell anyone about it or go for help. This made it hard to know how many people were experiencing obsessions and compulsions and it was once thought that it was a relatively rare disorder. It’s now estimated that about 1-2% of the population has obsessive-compulsive disorder or will have it at some point in their lives. Obsessive-compulsive disorder does seem to show up in certain groups more than others


What can I do about it?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is treatable. There are a number of different ways to treat OCD. Many can be used in combination, including:


Where do I go from here?

The best first step is always to talk to your doctor. He or she can help you decide which, if any of the above treatments would be best for you.

Other helpful resources, in English only, are:

Anxiety BC
Visit or call 604-525-7566 for community resources and lots of helpful information about OCD and other anxiety disorders. You’ll also find helpful guides on CBT skills to try at home.

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit for info sheets and personal stories about obsessive compulsive disorder. You’ll also find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems.

Resources available in many languages:
*For the service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

HealthLink BC
Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2013

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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