Neuroscience and OCD

At the Merit Club we are fascinated with what makes our brains tick! Every Wednesday we will be digging a little deeper into this with our Neuroscience Wednesdays series. Finding videos and articles on subjects from love through to leadership to addiction, these blogs will cover a range of ideas and theories that help us understand our mind better, have the power to shape our lives and the way we think. 

This week on Neuroscience Wednesday The Merit Club brings you the Ladies Who Lunch podcast who have teamed up with Kati Morton to talk all things OCD. 

Ever wonder whether you may have ocd tendencies? What really is it?

We can often throw around the term OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) in a fairly trivialised way, when the reality of living with the condition in its most extreme can in fact be very debilitating on a person's day-to-day lifestyle, with frustrations, panics, and seemingly never-ending cycles.

To look at it's official definition, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) states that OCD is characterised by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive and unwanted, while compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. For someone with OCD, just getting out of the house for work in the morning can become an ordeal. On the way out the door, you pause to wipe the kitchen counter with a sponge. You look at your watch and know you should leave, but you’re pretty sure you should wipe the counter just once more to make sure you didn’t miss a crumb. So you do—seven more times, and it’s precisely what you do every morning. You know it doesn’t make rational sense, and yet you can’t help but do it. 

In order to be officially diagnosed with OCD, your compulsions and obsessions have to take about an hour each day for you to do. Time which can be completely all-consuming for so many sufferers, building anxiety, frustration and fear along with it. Once the recurrent and intrusive thoughts begin, people then have repeated behaviours that they feel compelled to do. It may be performing mental acts inside your head; with the idea that repeating these obsessive thoughts will reduce anxiety, which is known as Pure O OCD. Any set of repetitive tasks which may inhibit a person from functioning normally in everyday life might mean they have OCD.

Why do people have OCD?

It is assumed that OCD is caused by multiple factors such as the environment, genetic make-up, behavioural traits, and so on, and these factors trigger the onset of the disorder in a specific person at a certain point in time. However, although an extensive amount of research has been done surrounding OCD, it has not yet been identified what the causes exactly are.  

It is difficult for researchers to say for definite whether or not OCD is hereditary, but research has shown that it does run in families, which indicates that genetics do play a role. Interestingly, researcher’s findings suggest that the symptoms of OCD may be a result of inflammation in the brain which is known to get worse if the compulsions are resisted. It is thought to have a neurobiological basis, with neuroimaging studies showing that the brain functions differently in people with the disorder. An abnormality, or an imbalance in neurotransmitters, is thought to be involved. Other researcher’s findings also illustrated that symptoms of OCD may be due to communication errors between different regions of the brain such as the cortex, striatum and thalamus. It is also said that abnormalities in chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and others that send signals between brain cells are also involved in the condition.

There's no doubt, therefore, that OCD is an area of mental health which has much room to be explored, discussed, and raised in profile. If you feel that you suffer from symptoms of OCD, or you are interested in learning more about it, or reading someone else's account of living with OCD, then you might like to check out David Adam's memoir, The Man Who Couldn't Stop: The Truth About OCD as well as listening to the podcast below. We want to talk more openly about it, whatever degree of OCD you may have experienced in your life. Maybe you have noticed it in a family member. Maybe you try and curb repetitive tendencies in yourself. Whatever it may be, we want to talk about it.