Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that can have a big impact on someone’s life when left untreated.

People who live with OCD tend to experience:

  • Obsessions — which are unwanted thoughts, mental images or feelings that cause distress. These are usually persistent and recurrent but can change in theme from time to time.
  • Compulsions — which are rituals people do to try and get rid of their discomfort from their obsessions. These can be mental or physical rituals.
  • Interference — the obsessions, compulsions, and avoidance of OCD symptoms together take up significant time (e.g., more than an hour per day) or interfere with things that they value (e.g., relationships, wellbeing, daily living, work, study).

OCD can have a big impact because the relief that a person gains from their compulsions is only temporary.

Because the obsessions keep coming back, they cause a cycle that is hard to break.

People also tend avoid more and more things that might make this cycle worse, so their world can start to feel like it’s shrinking.

Everyone who lives with OCD experiences it differently.

Below are some example of some obsessions and compulsions.

Note that this is not a comprehensive list of possible symptoms!

Common themes Examples of obsessions Examples of compulsions Examples of avoidance
Contamination, germs, or being disgusted
  • Worries about germs or harmful pollutants
  • Concerns about spreading or catching sickness
  • Feeling disgusted by a thought, person, place or thing
  • Washing hands, sanitising, showering, or cleaning
  • Having specific rules or routines when cleaning
  • Not touching certain surfaces or going certain places
  • Keeping one “clean” and one “dirty” hand
Responsibility for something bad happening
  • Doubting whether you have been careful enough
  • Thinking about how you can prevent bad luck
  • Feeling uncertain about your own actions
  • Repeatedly checking locks, handbrakes, stoves, etc.
  • Mentally reviewing things you’ve recently done
  • Asking others for reassurance
  • Using counting or other tricks to prevent bad luck
  • Not switching on certain appliances
  • Avoiding driving certain routes
Fears about own thoughts or actions
  • Wondering if you will lose control and do something violent
  • Having sexual thoughts that you find inappropriate or repulsive
  • Fear of saying impulsively something embarrassing or blasphemous
  • Trying to mentally “solve” or explain your thoughts
  • Repeating a specific thought or action to reassure yourself
  • Saying prayers or performing religious rituals
  • Withdrawing from people or places that remind you of your obessions
  • Delaying activities that could lead to you doing or thinking something
  • Removing opportunities for impulsive action (e.g., not having sharp knives)
Wanting things to be just right
  • Thinking about how a room or area is messy
  • Discomfort when items are not arranged properly
  • Upset when something said does not “sound right”
  • Tidying, arranging and re-ordering messy items
  • Doing things to “balance” sensations in the body
  • Repeating doing or saying something until it feels right
  • Preventing others from interfering with things you’ve arranged
  • Delaying speaking until you find the right words and tone

There are many other obsessions, compulsions or avoidance behaviours that are not in this table.

That’s the diverse nature of OCD. People can have OCD thoughts themed about almost anything.

It’s generally not the subject of the thoughts but the cycle of thoughts that makes it OCD.

If you live with OCD, you should know that:

1. You are not alone.

In any given year, about one in every 50 Australians lives with OCD. Plenty more people know and care about someone who lives with OCD.

2. You are not “crazy”, “weak”, or “bad”

People who live with OCD usually know that their thoughts or urges are excessive or don’t seem logical. But they still feel a lot of distress anyway. Researchers and clinicians agree that OCD is not a reflection of a person’s character or mental strength.

3. It’s nobody’s fault.

You might have read about research into how OCD runs in families, or develops after childhood and life experiences. Researchers agree that OCD probably develops with a recipe of biological, psychological and social factors. The exact recipe is probably different for different people. If you’re a parent of a child with OCD, you have not failed your child and are not to blame!

4. Good treatment options exist.

We know that OCD is treatable, but it often takes a long time for someone to realise that what they’re experiencing is OCD and to find appropriate help. Have a read of our Treatment Options page to learn about what works.