The adolescent years can be difficult, but if you have a teen with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) you are faced with additional obstacles as a parent. Know that you are not alone on this journey. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), OCD affects about one in one-hundred school-age children. Once you gain an understanding of OCD, know that there are treatment options available for your adolescent.
What is OCD?
OCD has two components. One component is the obsession. This is when the person has ongoing fears and thoughts and images that are upsetting to them. The compulsion aspect is the urge to do certain things repeatedly to get rid of the thoughts and help reduce the anxiety these thoughts are causing. These actions only provide temporary relief and can actually reinforce the obsession. Further, these actions cause interference with daily activities. Common Obsessions and Compulsions:
- Fear of contamination or germs leads to compulsively cleaning and/or washing
- Fear of violating religious rules leads to a compulsion with religious observances
- Fear of having something valuable lost leads to compulsively hoarding
- Fear of danger or harm leads to compulsively checking
- Feels the needs for things to have symmetry which leads to compulsively arranging things
- Feels the need to be perfect which leads to needing reassurance and making sure they are doing things perfectly
Causes and Risk Factor
According to Kids Health, the exact cause of OCD is not yet known by scientists and doctors. What is believed is that there is a relationship between the levels of serotonin in the brain and that if serotonin levels are blocked the brain creates these “false alarms” or danger messages and instead of the brain getting rid of these messages it obsesses about them which causes unnecessary fears.
There is strong evidence that OCD can be hereditary. Many find if they have it so do at least one of more members of their family. However, just because this gene may exist does not mean that a person will develop OCD. There is just a stronger chance for it to develop. Keep in mind, that if OCD is genetic, then it is not caused by the family of the adolescent with OCD.
According to ADAA, other instances of OCD occurring are following a strep infection and also a major life change or stressful event. Examples are:
- Move to a new community or new home
- Having a new sibling
- A loved one dying
- A new school year
- Other illness
- Vacation Time
How to Talk to Your Teen About OCD
Your teen might be relieved that you want to talk about their OCD or they might be reluctant. According the International OCD Foundation, parents should first do research to learn more about OCD, as well as therapists and also medications to treat OCD. Then approach your adolescent in a non-judgmental way to talk about their OCD and seeking professional help.
To diagnose OCD, a mental health professional with knowledge of OCD will perform an interview to see if your adolescent has OCD. They will likely ask questions in regard to the obsessions and compulsions. Examples of questions:
- Do you have thoughts, images, worries, ideas or feeling that either scare or upset you?
- Do you feel it necessary to organize things in a certain way?
- Do you repetitively go over things?
Upon being diagnosed, treatment can begin for your adolescent. What does treatment for OCD look like?
Initially your adolescent will begin working with the therapist to learn about OCD and what to expect from treatment. The types of therapy they will then begin are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) coupled with cognitive therapy. These are the most effective treatments for OCD. What this means is that the therapist will give your adolescent tools to outsmart the OCD and help manage the OCD with proven tactics. In most cases, you can expect the treatment to take weeks or months. Gradually your adolescent can expect to be exposed to their fears and asked to stop doing the compulsion. An example would be for a person afraid of germs being asked to touch an item in public like a door knob and then wait an extended period of time to wash their hands. Then gradually increase the time between touching the object and then washing their hands. Over time your body will be trained to act differently to the fear.
If your adolescent seems to exhibit symptoms of OCD contact the team at Doorways for an evaluation and if we find that they do have OCD, then we can recommend the best course of treatment for your adolescent.