Understanding children's mental health & emotional wellbeing

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder is associated with other anxiety disorders. Obsessions and compulsions that are persistent, ritualistic, and that intrude upon an individual’s ability to function are a cause for concern if they occur over a period of time rather than as isolated events. In terms of a disorder, obsessions can be defined as recurring thoughts that are intrusive, inappropriate and that cause distress or anxiety to the individual who tries to resist them.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that the individual feels compelled to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. People act compulsively in order to alleviate stress and anxiety relating to a situation. People are often described as having ‘OCD traits’ but this is different from developing a disorder which can be consuming and distressing for the individual and warrants specialised intervention.

It can be difficult to identify OCD because children may not initially reveal the obsessive thoughts to others and the compulsive behaviour may take place at home rather than school. The result of such behaviour may impact on a child’s learning and may mean that a child does not complete homework or may be tired since symptoms such as ritualised behaviour can also be time consuming. It is important to foster a positive and boundaried school environment; to work closely with parents/carers and to be sensitive rather than punitive. Children who may be perceived as “defiant” should be praised for any attempt to resist compulsive behaviour; they should be encouraged in friendships with peers and should be protected from negative reactions.