Health & Wellbeing: Support for employees with OCD

ocdPeople often claim to be a ‘bit OCD’ when really all they mean is they’re neat and tidy or don’t mind doing a bit of cleaning.

Real OCD is much more complicated than that.

OCD is a serious anxiety related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome thoughts, often followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges.

The illness affects as many as 12 in every 1,000 people from young children to adults. The World Health Organisation has ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life.

OCD presents itself in many ways and goes far beyond the common perception that it is merely handwashing or checking light switches. In general OCD sufferers experience obsessions which take the form of persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, images, impulses, worries, fears or doubts.

They are often intrusive, unwanted, disturbing, significantly interfere with the ability to function on a day to day basis as they are incredibly difficult to ignore.

Symptoms

People with OCD can often realise that their obsessional thoughts are irrational, but they believe the only way to relive the anxiety caused by them is to perform the compulsive behaviours, often to prevent perceived harm to themselves or more often than not to a loved one.

Compulsions are repetitive physical behaviours and actions or mental thought rituals that are performed over and over again to attempt to relive the anxiety caused by the obsessional thoughts.

For many with OCD there is often an over inflated sense of responsibility to prevent harm, these help drive the compulsive behaviour because the person with OCD often feels responsible for trying to stop bad things from happening.

To a degree OCD type symptoms are probably experienced, at one time or another by most people, especially in times of stress where they have succumbed to the seemingly nonsensical need to perform and odd and often unrealised behaviour pattern.

OCD itself can have a devastating impact on a person’s entire life, from education, work and career progression to their social life and personal relationships.

Diagnosis

OCD is diagnosed when the obsessions and compulsions:

  • Consume excessive amounts of time (an hour or more)
  • Cause significant distress and anguish
  • Interfere with daily life at home, school or work as well as social activities, family life and relationships.

OCD affects men and women equally and on average begins to affect people in late adolescence for men and during their early twenties for women.

Sufferers can go undiagnosed for many years, partly due to a lack of understanding of the condition by the sufferer themselves and amongst health professionals and partly because of the feelings of embarrassment, guilt and sometimes even shame associated with the disorder.

Treatment

OCD is a chronic, but also very treatable medical condition. Most people can learn to stop performing their compulsive rituals and decrease the intensity of their obsessional thought with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT is a form of talking therapy that focuses on the problems a person had and helps them explore alternative ways of thinking and to challenge their beliefs with behavioural exercises.

In many cases, CBT alone is very effective in treating OCD, but for some a combination of CBT and medication can be effective. Medication may reduce the anxiety enough for a person to start and eventually succeed in therapy.

Supporting employees with OCD

Hopefully after reading this blog you’ll feel more confident in understanding the condition. It’s important to recognise that OCD sufferers cannot just stop their obsessive thought and rituals. By understanding more about the condition, you’ll be more able to provide support and sympathy. It may seem obvious, but don’t poke fun at you colleagues suffering with the condition.

Remember, medication therapy may not alleviate all the symptoms of OCD and you can’t change the employee’s behaviours.

If you feel the person is struggling in their role, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it and how you might be able to support them with individual tasks.

Consider whether there’s a better role for them that will reduce their anxiety, or even fit better with their behaviour. For Example: Some OCD suffers may be great at routine tasks or quality control for example.

Offer Support

By offering support for some of their symptoms is another way of showing support:

For example: Some sufferers symptoms mean they feel the need to wash or sanitize their hands regularly, so don’t expect them to shake hands or share a phone.

As we’ve already said, you can’t change their behaviour, so don’t even try, your time would be better spent in working with the sufferer to understand and support them.

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