How OCD is Diagnosed?
It can be scary to reach out for help if you think you have OCD, but it’s vital that you do! Reaching out can allow you to get the answers and treatment you need to reclaim your life. Being diagnosed with OCD can be a stressful time, but we’ve got you covered with this guide detailing all you need to know about the diagnostic process.
Diagnostic criteria for OCD
A diagnostic criteria simply means the symptoms you must experience in order to be diagnosed with any health condition. Depending on where you live, different official diagnostic criteria may be referred to by professionals, but all are essentially the same. The symptoms listed and the reason for their definitions are all to help you get the right diagnosis, although details and classifications may vary slightly.
International Classification of Diseases (ICD)
The ICD is an international standard of diagnostic criteria for all health conditions, formed and monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO).The ICD is primarily used in the UK and Europe. In the ICD, OCD is listed within the “mental and behavioural disorders” category, under “obsessive-compulsive or related disorder”.
The criteria for diagnosis of OCD includes, “the presence of persistent obsessions or compulsions, or most commonly both.” The document goes on to explain what obsessions and compulsions are, along with specifying the level of insight an individual may have into their OCD. These levels of insight include:
- Fair to good: meaning that most of the time (unless they are very anxious), the individual understands that their beliefs are not grounded in reality, or “may not be true and is willing to accept an alternative explanation for his or her experience.”
- Poor to absent: meaning that most of the time the individual believes that their obsessive thoughts are true and, “cannot accept an alternative explanation for their experience.”
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
The DSM is the American ‘version’ of the ICD, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Some controversy among mental health experts occurred when OCD was moved from the ‘anxiety disorder’ category into another category, instead listed under “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders”. Despite this controversy, most mental health professionals in America refer to the DSM when diagnosing OCD.
As in the ICD, the DSM states that to be diagnosed with OCD patients must display, “presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both”, and includes specifics about the level of insight patient’s may have.
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
In the UK, professionals also refer to the NICE guidelines. OCD UK explains that NICE, “is part of the NHS and is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on treatments and care for people using the NHS.”
The NICE guidelines offer treatment recommendations and standards for each health issue, as well as a diagnostic criteria. The diagnostic guidelines include:
- Obsessions and compulsions, which “are a product of their mind and are not imposed by an outside person or influence.”
- One or more of the obsessions acknowledged by the patient as, “excessive or unreasonable”.
- Obsessions and compulsions causing significant distress and markedly impacting the patient’s life.
- Varying levels of insight are taken into consideration, as with the ICD and DSM.
What should you do if you have OCD symptoms?
Seek professional help
If you’re experiencing symptoms that you feel could be OCD, or even if you’re experiencing any symptoms of mental illness and you aren’t sure about their cause, your first step should be to seek professional help. You should make an appointment with your GP, or your mental health professional if you are already under the care of mental health services. Voice your concerns and explain your symptoms. From there, the diagnostic process should begin.
Seeking professional help can be easier said than done. It’s tough to come to terms with the idea that you might need help, and even harder to actually reach out for it. Sadly stigma around OCD is still prevalent and this can be off-putting when thinking about speaking up and asking for help. However it’s vital that you do. OCD is very unlikely to improve on it’s own. You need answers and appropriate treatment so that you can move forward and get your quality of life back.
If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed at the thought of going to a doctor’s appointment to discuss your symptoms, you could ask someone you trust to go with you for moral support. You could also write down what you want to talk about on a piece of paper to help keep you on track if you get flustered during the appointment. Don’t be afraid to let the doctor know that you’re particularly nervous about this appointment, so that they can hopefully be more compassionate and patient.
If you at any time feel that you are experiencing a mental health crisis and you are in danger of harming yourself, it’s important you reach out immediately to the emergency services, a hotline, someone you trust, or your crisis team if you have one.
Do your own research
While you’re waiting to see a professional or even before you reach out for help, you could do some research into the symptoms you’re experiencing. You could research OCD if you feel that this diagnosis resonates with you. There’s nothing wrong with educating yourself so that you are prepared to advocate for yourself and make choices about potential treatments. Researching can also give you a clearer idea about what you might be able to expect once you see a doctor. However, it’s really important you use reputable resources for your research to avoid misinformation or scaremongering.
Be cautious about ‘online diagnostic tests’
Although doing research online and seeking support can be useful, you might come across ‘online diagnostic tests’ for OCD. While these tests may be able to give you a more general insight, be cautious about using them as they do not take the place of a mental health professionals advice, and cannot diagnose you accurately.
Keep track of your symptoms
While you’re waiting to see the doctor it’s a great idea to write down a list of your symptoms and anything you feel is important. Keep track of your symptoms each day, such as how they felt, what actions you took, whether there were any triggers and how severe the symptoms were. You could note this down in a diary, on your phone or use your computer. If you take this record with you to your appointments, it can allow the doctor to get a clearer view of how your symptoms have been affecting you and make the diagnostic process run more smoothly.
Prepare for your appointments
As we’ve mentioned it’s a good idea to jot down any concerns or questions you have along with keeping note of your symptoms, so you can take your notes to your appointment with you. It’s also a great idea to really think about how your OCD affects you so that when they ask you questions, you’ve had time to consider your symptoms and can give more accurate, honest answers.
Making travel plans in advance can help to reduce anxiety and ensure you get to your appointments on time. Planning in advance can also allow you to take time off work or school, and arrange for a loved one to go with you if you prefer.
If you’re worried that your GP may not know much about OCD, or may not be open to referring you to a mental health professional, there are some great resources online which you can take with you to help bridge the gap. A great example is this GP card from the charity OCD Action, which you can print out and give to your GP to help them understand what you’re going through.
If you’re particularly nervous, don’t have someone to go with you or simply feel that you need extra support in starting the conversation with your GP, this GP Icebreaker from OCD UK is a wonderful resource. As with the GP card, you can print it off and take it with you to help your GP understand how you feel and encourage them to give you the help you need.
The diagnostic process
There’s no one single test that can be done to diagnose OCD, but a mental health professional can make a detailed assessment of your symptoms. There are a number of steps which you will typically go through before receiving an OCD diagnosis. Let’s start from the beginning and take a look at what you can expect.
Starting with your GP
If you feel you have OCD symptoms, unless you are already being seen under a mental health professional, your first stop will be your GP. You’ll likely make an appointment with your doctor and speak to them about your concerns. They may ask you some questions and chat with you about how you’ve been feeling and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
If they feel you may have OCD, it’s likely that they refer you to see a mental health professional who can properly evaluate you and give the diagnosis and treatment you need. Depending on where you live combined with the health system and the resources available, how long it will take to see a mental health professional can vary. There may be waiting lists. If a referral doesn’t happen and you feel you aren’t being heard, ensure you advocate for yourself so you can see a professional who has full knowledge of OCD. You may also be able to access a mental health professional through a self-referral, or privately depending on your resources and where you live.
Seeing a mental health professional
Your first appointment with a mental health professional may be over the phone or in person. This may be a psychiatrist or psychologist, and they may well specialize specifically in OCD. You’ll initially discuss your experiences, talk about the symptoms you’ve been having, and then a psychological evaluation will take place.
The psychological evaluation will involve the mental health professional talking to you about your symptoms in detail, and going into depth about how these symptoms have been affecting your life. They will ask specific questions to determine whether the thoughts and behaviours you are experiencing could be obsessions and compulsions.
The type of questions you may be asked include:
- Do you re-check things a lot?
- Do you have intrusive thoughts that you feel you can’t ‘get rid’ of?
- Do these thoughts cause a lot of distress and distract you?
- Do you follow these thoughts with actions to ‘deal’ or ‘cope with them?
- Do you carry out rituals or repetitive behaviours which take up a lot of your day?
- Do you take a long time to carry out a task or activity?
- Do you experience high anxiety?
These are just a few examples of the type of questions which may be asked. Again depending on the professional, the guidelines they’re using and where you live, the questions may vary. It can feel a little bit overwhelming, but it’s important to answer honestly and as fully as possible to help them give you the right diagnosis.
During this evaluation, you may be asked to fill out questionnaires and forms so the specialist can get a deeper insight into your symptoms. They might ask if you will grant permission for them to talk to your close family members. This can help them to get a clearer view and different perspectives of what has been going on and the severity of your symptoms.
It’s likely a physical exam will take place to rule out other potential causes for your symptoms. This may be done at your GP’s office initially, as well as potentially under the care of a mental health professional to ensure they are giving an accurate diagnosis. A physical exam will likely entail taking your vitals, blood tests, and a general health check.
Considering other causes
The diagnosis of OCD won’t be given lightly: it may take time and a number of appointments before they give you an official diagnosis. This isn’t anything to worry about; it’s important they assess you thoroughly. The specialist will be looking to ensure your symptoms fit in with OCD, and to rule out other mental illnesses which could be causing your symptoms such as other anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders and more. Often symptoms of other mental illnesses can mimic or overlap with that of OCD.
You may hear the term ‘differential diagnoses’: this simply refers to other potential causes of your symptoms. This article written by Jill Seladi-Schulman, PhD explains that a differential diagnosis is, “a list of possible conditions or diseases that could be causing your symptoms.” She goes on to explain that this list is based on, “your symptoms, medical history, basic laboratory results, and a physical examination.” Once a doctor has figured out a list of what could be causing your symptoms, they will go through the possibilities to ‘rule out’ diagnoses which don’t fit, and ultimately find the most accurate answer possible for you.
A ‘working diagnosis’
You may receive what can be referred to as a ‘working’ or ‘provisional’ diagnosis. This simply means that this is the diagnosis that the doctors feel best fits your symptoms, but they still aren’t 100% sure. This working diagnosis may last for a few months or more as they monitor you, gather more information and see how you react to medication. Often whether or not the treatment works can help them to confirm whether they have given you the correct diagnosis.
Having a working diagnosis does not make your symptoms any less valid, and it doesn’t mean that your doctors don’t believe you or aren’t taking you seriously. In fact it’s actually a good thing that the professionals who are treating you want to make sure that you get the right diagnosis and the right help. It means they’re being thorough and plan on monitoring you for a longer term. This 2020 article explains that, “A provisional diagnosis means that your doctor is not 100% sure of a diagnosis because more information is needed.” The article goes on to explain that once the doctor is sure, a final diagnosis will be made definitively.
We all have intrusive thoughts, however individuals with OCD attach more significance to these intrusive thoughts which can then develop into obsessions. Some of the intrusive thoughts OCD patients experience may be related to violence towards themselves or others, or sexually inappropriate behaviour.
These thoughts can be very graphic and distressing for the individual, making them feel ashamed, guilty and as though they are a ‘bad person’. However it’s vital to know that these thoughts do not equate to risk. That means that just because you’re having these intrusive thoughts, it doesn’t mean you’re at risk of acting on them.
The charity OCD UK makes a very apt and important statement on the topic: “there is no documented evidence suggesting anyone with OCD has actually carried out their actions, far from it, people with OCD go to extreme lengths not to carry out such actions.”
Unfortunately because many people who experience these thoughts are ashamed, they may not reach out for the help they so desperately need for fear of how medical professionals will perceive them. Even though this is difficult, it’s vital you don’t let shame or fear stop you from getting the help you need and deserve. If you’re in this situation please know you are not a bad person. It is your OCD, and not you, who is causing the thoughts. You do deserve help to treat your OCD. Things can get better.
Since GPs are usually the first point of contact and they don’t often have a great deal of education and training about OCD, it is possible that you may face a doctor who doesn’t understand that you don’t pose a risk when you share these thoughts. If you feel that you are not being heard, or are not being treated appropriately, you can provide your doctor with resources like the ones we provided earlier from OCD charities. Alternatively, you can ask to see another doctor, or be persistent and calm in asking to be referred to a mental health professional. If the situation requires it, know that you have the right to make a complaint and stand up for yourself.
It’s vital you are able to see a mental health professional who specializes in OCD and understands the difference between intrusive thoughts and any risk. This wonderfully detailed article on the topic refers to the NICE guidelines which state: “If healthcare professionals are uncertain about the risks associated with intrusive sexual, aggressive or death-related thoughts reported by people with OCD, they should consult mental health professionals with specific expertise in the assessment and management of OCD. These themes are common in people with OCD at any age, and are often misinterpreted as indicating risk.” You could show this article (or in fact this exact statement directly from the NICE guidelines) to your doctor if you are concerned they don’t fully understand your symptoms.
A properly qualified mental health professional who specializes in OCD will likely conduct a risk assessment if you are having this type of intrusive thoughts. This isn’t anything to worry about, because they will understand fully how OCD works and affects you, and will ensure that you are assessed properly. This risk assessment will not be drawn out and will typically involve asking you questions about your intrusive thoughts and chatting with you about how you feel. It is likely to be done as part of your initial psychological evaluation rather than as a separate event. The majority of this risk assessment is in fact to ensure your own safety, to ensure you are not at risk of self-harm or suicide, and to help you if you are.
Figuring out which ‘type’ of OCD you have
OCD can typically be divided into subtypes, revolving around the type of obsessions and compulsions you have. You may hear this referred to within the diagnostic process. It simply means that the professionals are trying to narrow down the experiences you’re having so that they can understand what you’re going through and target your treatment more specifically.
There are five main categories which tend to be used when considering OCD subtypes, which are shown below. However OCD obsessions can revolve around literally anything, and if your symptoms don’t fit into these subtypes it does not make them any less valid or worthy of treatment.
OCD which revolves around checking compulsions leads to the individual needing to check something over and over again. This may be physically or mentally going over something repeatedly. The obsession is to try to prevent damage or harm of some sort, while the compulsion is the checking itself. The charity OCD UK explains that, “Checking is often carried out multiple times, sometimes hundreds of times and might last for an hour or even longer causing significant impact on the person’s life.”
Contamination OCD tends to revolve around a fear of germs or of being dirty or contaminated. The individual might fear that this contamination is going to cause harm to themselves or loved ones. These fears are the obsessions. The compulsions can include cleaning or washing themselves or specific areas, or avoidance of certain areas which they feel might be contaminated.
Mental contamination is another form of this subtype of OCD, meaning that someone mentally feels dirty and will try to clean themselves to get rid of this feeling. This article states that the difference between mental and physical contamination is that, “individuals report feeling “mentally polluted” (usually associated with feeling violated or disgusted in some way), as opposed to feeling contaminated by physical contact with external objects or substances.”
- Symmetry and ordering
Individuals experiencing this type of obsession will likely feel that they need to have everything lined up or arranged in a way that feels ‘right’ or ‘perfect’. This can also involve feeling you need to ‘think’ things in a specific way to prevent harm to yourself or others.
OCD UK defines ruminations in the context of OCD as, “a train of prolonged thinking about a question or theme that is undirected and unproductive.” An individual with ruminations may fixate on a certain thought or question and spend a lot of time going over possible answers, outcomes and theories.
Hoarding refers to collecting certain objects or feeling that you are unable to throw them away. Hoarding now has its own specific diagnosis which can be seperate from OCD. However if hoarding stems from obsessional thoughts about hoarding things to prevent harm, alleviate specific fears or ease worries, it can be diagnosed as part of OCD.
There are also other obsessive compulsive disorders which you may be diagnosed with. They are typically grouped together and you may hear them referred to as ‘Obsessive Compulsive Related Disorders’, ‘OC Related Disorders’ or ‘OC Spectrum Disorders”. These disorders include:
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): obsessions and compulsions based around physical appearance.
- Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs): compulsions based around picking at the skin (Excoriation disorder/Dermatillomania) or pulling out the hair (Trichotillomania) to ‘deal’ with stress and anxiety.
- Olfactory Reference Syndrome (ORS): Obsessions revolving around the individuals body odor and how they smell.
It’s important to know that if you hear these terms being used during your diagnostic process, it’s nothing to be concerned about. The professionals use specific categories to pinpoint exactly how your OCD is presenting itself so that they can accurately and effectively help you to tackle your symptoms. For example, if you are having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), if the therapist knows what type of obsessions and compulsions you have, they have a good basis to work from and shape your therapy around to help you get the best results.
Misdiagnosis can occur in one of two ways: you may have OCD and be misdiagnosed with another condition, or you may have another condition and be misdiagnosed with OCD. Although the thought of being misdiagnosed can be an understandably scary one, it’s important to know both that it’s a possibility, and that there are ways you can deal with this situation. First let’s take a look at why misdiagnosis can occur.
Why misdiagnosis occurs
Misdiagnosis can occur for a few reasons. OCD can mimic and overlap with symptoms of other mental illnesses and neurological disorders. Sometimes mental health professionals may mistake the symptoms of OCD for another condition.
If compulsions and obsessions aren’t obvious, or the doctor is not well versed in OCD, sometimes OCD can be mistaken for other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and more. Other diagnoses which share overlapping features with OCD include:
- Tic Disorders/Tourette Syndrome: Overlapping symptoms include repetitive physical behaviours.
- Impulse Control Disorders: Similar symptoms can include strong urges to continue repeating a specific behaviour.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): As with OCD, those with ADHD may have trouble concentrating. Those with ADHD may also exhibit repetitive reorganisation or ‘re-doing’ behaviours if they’ve struggled to focus on the task at hand.
- Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD): Patients with OCPD may focus a great deal on perfectionism similar to those with OCD.
- Psychotic Disorders: Those with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia may have intrusive thoughts around similar themes to those with OCD.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders: Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders often display ‘obsessions’ with specific themes along with the need for routines and things to be done in a specific order, similar to some symptoms of OCD.
It’s important to note that the difference between these disorders will be clear to a professional who is well versed in OCD. As well as having some similarities in symptoms, these other disorders also have clear differences to OCD.
Other reasons for misdiagnosis can include a medical professional not having the appropriate education or training on OCD. Unfortunately stigma and stereotypes can be the cause of misinterpretation of OCD symptoms in the case of some doctors. An inaccurate assessment could occur if the process is rushed or not taken seriously. Additionally, many OCD patients find it hard to reach out and may not be open about their intrusive thoughts for fear of how they will be viewed, or as a result of shame and guilt: this can delay diagnosis and make it more difficult for the professionals to get a clear view of what is going on.
Other mental illnesses can be comorbid with OCD, meaning that a patient can have another mental illness as well as their OCD. This can include mood disorders, other forms of anxiety, depression and more. Understandably this can make it hard to diagnose OCD, particularly if the co-morbid mental illness has symptoms which overlap with OCD as we’ve discussed. Fundamentally the reasons for misdiagnosis are not as important as the fact that the right diagnosis is critical to ensure the patient gets the right treatment.
What to do if you feel you’ve been misdiagnosed
Thankfully the potential for misdiagnosis in OCD patients is being recognised more, along with the need for change in the way that medical professionals are educated and trained in OCD. This study concluded that, “Elevated OCD misdiagnosis rates and the impact of incorrect diagnoses on treatment recommendations highlight the need for greater training regarding OCD symptomatology and empirically supported treatments.”
If you feel you’ve been given an incorrect diagnosis, there are a few things you can do to get things back on track:
- Ensure you’ve been assessed by a mental health professional
It’s vital you ensure you’ve been assessed by a mental health professional, rather than your regular GP, as they have the training and expertise needed to assess your symptoms. If you have not been referred to a mental health professional, return to your doctor and be persistent in getting a referral. In some places, you may be able to self-refer to their mental health services.
- Speak to your doctor about your concerns
If you’ve seen a mental health professional and still feel you’ve been misdiagnosed, the first point of call is to speak to the doctor who diagnosed you about your concerns. If you can, make an appointment to chat with them face to face. Be open and honest, explain what you’re worried about and why you feel you may have been given the wrong diagnosis. Ask them to explain their reasons and go through the assessment process they used with you for your diagnosis.
If they explain and you still don’t feel they have made the right choice, you could ask them to re-do your assessment. It’s important to be calm and ideally non-confrontational, but firm and persistent in order to get the results you need.
- Ask for a second opinion
If you feel that the doctor is not taking you seriously or refuses to consider that you may have been misdiagnosed, you could ask for a second opinion. You can ask to see another doctor or mental health professional to be re-assessed. It’s important to bear in mind that you do not have a legal right to a second opinion, but most doctors should refer you for one if you ask and explain your reasons.
- Make a complaint
If you feel you are being treated unfairly, not taken seriously or are experiencing stigma, you have the right to make a complaint.
- Seek a diagnosis privately
If your resources allow and you are not getting very far with your local health service, you could choose to seek a psychological assessment privately with a specialist specifically in OCD.
- Write down your concerns to present clearly
If speaking face to face with doctors has not alleviated your concerns, or you feel you are getting flustered and aren’t able to express yourself well, you could take another approach. You could write down your symptoms, any details you feel are important, and your reasons for feeling you are misdiagnosed clearly and ask your mental health professional to read over them. This may allow you to get your point across more clearly.
- Ask someone to advocate for you
You could choose to have someone advocate for your rights. This could be a loved one, or a professional advocate. A professional mental health advocate is trained in helping people with mental illness get the treatment they need. The charity Rethink Mental Illness explains that, “Advocates can help you to express your concerns, get information and explore options for moving forward.”
Depending on where you live there may be different charities and advocacy services you can access. You could do an internet search, ask local charities, ask your support worker (if you have one) or ask your local council.
- Do research using reputable resources
If you’re doing your own research because you feel you’ve been misdiagnosed, it’s important you use reputable resources with accurate information. It’s also vital to remember that no online test or resource can diagnose you: only a medical professional is able to do that.
- Be open and honest
It’s absolutely vital that you are open and honest about your intrusive thoughts and any symptoms you’re experiencing. Even if this seems scary and overwhelming, the only way to get the right diagnosis is to give the doctors the right information so they can get a clear view about what you’re experiencing.
How can you help yourself during the diagnostic process?
The diagnostic process is rarely simple or quick. It can take weeks or even months, particularly if you’re given a ‘working diagnosis’ as we discussed earlier. Even though it’s difficult, it’s important to try to be patient during this time. It can help to regularly remind yourself that the reason it’s taking so long is because the professionals you’re seeing want to ensure they are giving you the right diagnosis, and that’s what is most important.
Attend all of your appointments
This may sound obvious, but sometimes nerves, or indeed a busy life, can get in the way. It’s so important you attend all of your appointments and are on time wherever possible, in order to give the professionals the time they need to assess and help you. This is also important in the building of trust and respect between you and your mental health team.
Keep track of what happens during appointments
It’s a good idea to keep notes of what happens during each appointment. There can often be a lot of information given or assessments done; keeping notes can allow you to keep track of what’s going on for reference later. Remember you can ask for a copy of your medical records at any time to ensure you can see what is being recorded about you and your mental health.
Keep track of your symptoms
Just as we mentioned in the section about waiting for a diagnostic assessment, it’s equally as important during the diagnostic process to keep track of your symptoms. Your doctor may ask you to do this specifically and may even provide charts to do so. If not, noting down your symptoms can still be really useful to help your mental health professional monitor you.
Keep up with any treatments
During this time, particularly if you have a ‘working diagnosis’, you may be given treatment such as medications or therapy. Often professionals want to see how you will respond to treatment to help them reach a more definitive diagnostic decision. It’s so important that you keep up with any treatments you’re given. It can also be useful to keep notes about how they affect you.
Try to focus on the positives of getting a diagnosis
The diagnostic process can be a stressful and worrying time; it can help to remind yourself of why you’re doing this, and of the positives of getting a diagnosis. With the right diagnosis, you can get the right treatment. The right treatment can help you to reduce (and even gain remission from) your symptoms, and allow you to live a full, happy life! Keep this in mind when you’re struggling.
Remember to practice self-care: ensure you keep up with healthy eating, drinking and hygiene habits; try to keep active and do exercise; talk about your feelings with someone you trust; set aside time for rest and relaxation; and make time for hobbies and things which bring you joy. All of these things can help you to cope as you go through the process of getting your diagnosis.
What happens after diagnosis?
After the process is finished and you finally get a diagnosis which is right for you, what happens next? This can be a tough time and can feel a bit overwhelming. Let’s go through some points to remember and talk about what comes next.
Coming to terms with your diagnosis
It can take a while to come to terms with diagnosis. Knowing that you ‘officially’ have a mental illness after all that waiting, wondering and stress can feel different for everybody. For some, it can feel like a relief because you have the answers you’ve needed for so long. For others, like myself, it can feel vindicating, because you knew something was wrong but needed mental health professionals to listen to you and take you seriously, and now they have!
For others, it can feel worrying and overwhelming, because it brings up fears for the future, internalised stigma, worries about how others will perceive them and concerns about what treatment will entail. For many people, it can include a mixture of all of these feelings and more!
It’s important to give yourself time to come to terms with your diagnosis. Be patient and kind with yourself. Know that however you are feeling, your feelings are valid. You can take all the time you need to process your thoughts and feelings.
A label doesn’t change who you are as a person
Although a diagnostic label is important because it helps us to get the right treatment, it’s also so important to remember that a label does not change who you are as a person. You are still the same person you were before your mental illness and before you got a name for your symptoms. A label cannot change who you are at your core. A mental illness does not define you.
After your diagnosis, if you have not already, you will start treatment. This may entail medication and psychological treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There are a range of treatments available for OCD which you will be able to discuss with your mental health professional to figure out what is the best route for you. Don’t be afraid to do your own research and ask plenty of questions.
Once you receive a diagnosis it’s likely you will receive ongoing support and monitoring from your mental health team. You may have access to a crisis team; a therapist; a mental health nurse and more. The support you get will depend on the severity of your symptoms, personal preference and the resources available where you live.
It’s a good idea to talk to your loved ones about how they will be able to support you going forward. You may also be able to join support groups online or in person to meet other people with OCD. Local charities may offer various types of support and guidance to help you on your journey.
Learning to manage your disorder
Once you know what’s causing your symptoms and are receiving treatment, you can start to become more self-aware and learn to manage your disorder more effectively. This will be trial and error. It’s important to remember that recovery isn’t linear: it’s normal to have some setbacks and to find things tough, so treat yourself with compassion.
Finding hope and potential remission
As you progress along your journey, you will begin to regain hope for your future. You’ll begin to see there’s light up ahead. Those who gain an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for their OCD have the potential to gain remission from their symptoms, meaning that they can be symptom free for significant periods of time and live the life they want. If treatment is not successful the first time, there are other treatments you can try to gain relief from your symptoms.
The International OCD Foundation states that, “About 70% of people will benefit from ERP (a form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention) and/or medication for their OCD.” This 2019 article explains that, “If you have OCD, you can undoubtedly live a normal and productive life.” You can find hope for the future!
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