The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that “mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day.” Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, neurobiological illness. It is characterized by unreasonable, uncontrollable, or recurring thoughts (obsessions) followed by a behavioral response (compulsions). Obsessions are defined as “repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety.” Compulsions are defined as “repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought.” OCD often begins in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood; the average age symptoms appear is 19 years old. The precise cause as to why an individual develops obsessive-compulsive disorder remains unknown. Several risk factors that have been noted to increase one’s predisposition for developing OCD include:
- Presence of other mental health disorder.
- Family history of OCD (e.g., parent, child, and/ or sibling diagnosed with OCD).
- Differences in the makeup of one’s brain.
- History of child abuse (e.g., physical, verbal, and/ or sexual).
- Experience with trauma.
It is also possible for OCD to develop in children because of a streptococcal infection. This is referred to as PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infections). OCD is a debilitating condition that greatly affects a teenager’s quality of life as the symptoms of this condition are highly distressing and can make completing everyday tasks extremely challenging.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can manifest in different ways, and symptoms will vary from person to person. The International OCD Foundation provide the following examples of commonly reported obsessions and compulsions displayed by teenagers with OCD:
- Obsessive symptoms:
- Religious fixations.
- Aggressive thoughts.
- Fear of contamination.
- A need for order, symmetry and/ or precision.
- Sexual thoughts.
- Fear of germs and/ or dirt.
- Preoccupation with bodily waste.
- Intrusive sounds and/ or words.
- Preoccupation with household items.
- Fear of illness and/ or harm coming to oneself and/ or others.
- Compulsive symptoms:
- Repeating rituals (e.g., entering and exiting doorways multiple times).
- Ordering and/ or arranging objects.
- Grooming rituals (e.g., showering, brushing teeth, hand washing, hair combing, etc.).
- Counting rituals.
- Checking rituals (e.g., pushing repeatedly on doors to assure they are closed).
- Touching rituals.
- Cleaning rituals (e.g., household items).
- Rituals to prevent self-harm and/ or harming others.
Although some teens may only experience one component of OCD (obsession or compulsions) it is far more common for teenagers to struggle with both obsessions and compulsions.
Mental health encompasses one’s emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and is an essential element of overall health. The connection between OCD and teen mental health is significant, as OCD can have a profound impact on various aspects of a teenager’s life. However, with the proper treatment and support a teen can learn to effectively control his or her symptoms and implement healthy coping strategies for navigating and managing any subsequent recurrences, which can ultimately enhance one’s overall mental health.
For Information and Support
Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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