Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be an incredibly difficult condition to manage. Even mild cases can present a teen with extraordinary challenges in everyday settings, and adolescence is a particularly difficult time for individuals with OCD due to increased rates of victimization, and the effects of prolonged bullying on the symptoms of OCD themselves. Understanding OCD in teens is incredibly important for parents to know – how it affects their teen’s thinking and behavior, and how they can best help their teen cope with the disorder.
Understanding OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
At its heart, OCD is a mental health condition closely related to anxiety. When a person is diagnosed with OCD, it means that they present with symptoms of two major behavioral and cognitive signs: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are deep-seated and intrusive worries that present themselves are unavoidable and persistent in a teen’s mind, much like the little intrusive thoughts we generally experience, but far stronger.
Picture walking past your dog with a pot of boiling hot soup, and for an instant, experiencing the fleeting thought of what might happen if you dropped the pot. Such violent and disturbing thoughts are not harmful in isolation, and if you can ignore and move past them immediately, then they are no cause for concern. But a person with OCD experiences similar thoughts much more consistently, and far more strongly. These thoughts are much harder to shut out or move past, which is why compulsions develop.
Compulsions are behaviors that help someone with obsessive thoughts cope. They may seem completely unrelated or totally nonsensical on the outside, but they provide some measure of momentary or short-term relief before the obsessions start up again. In this way, a teen with OCD is usually stuck within a perpetual cycle of obsessions and compulsions, feeling bombarded by intrusive thoughts which can only be shut out by performing compulsive, ritualistic or repetitive actions.
How OCD Is Commonly Managed
Treatment for OCD in teens differs from individual to individual, depending on the nature and severity of their thoughts and behaviors, but most cases involve behavioral therapy that walks a teen through their thoughts and helps them avoid both the compulsion and the obsession by triggering an obsession and changing their response.
Teens with OCD go through a slow and gradual process of learning to shut out intrusive thoughts, disregard them, and dissociate themselves and their own thinking from the OCD – learning to separate normal logic from their condition. This is part of behavioral therapy. Treatment for OCD isn’t always easy or successful, and it can take time for changes to occur, particularly if the symptoms are severe.
Medication can help with co-occurring issues, such as anxiety issues and depressive thinking as a result of their condition and the effect it has had on their life, but there is no drug that treats OCD itself. Therapy is often a teen’s best bet at learning to manage and cope with their OCD to the point that they can lead a more normal and self-sufficient life.
Common Issues of OCD in Teens
Adolescence is tough enough as it is. But teens with OCD face unique challenges. Dealing with the changes that early adulthood bring while struggling with reality can be painfully difficult, for teens and parents alike. Here are some ways in which the symptoms of OCD may affect your teen’s treatment.
Your Teen Might Struggle With Accepting Their Diagnosis
Mental health issues are still heavily stigmatized, particularly among teens. If your teen has not fully accepted their diagnosis yet, then chances are that it might be difficult for them to come to terms with the idea that they need help. Teens live in a world of labels and groups, and the last thing they want to be is labeled crazy, or in need of medication and therapy.
Furthermore, your teen might have a false understanding of what OCD is, and they might feel that their symptoms don’t fit their preconceptions. They might reject their diagnosis because they worry that going into therapy will affect their chances at getting into a good college or pursuing their dream career.
One way of helping your teen accept their diagnosis is by offering learn more about OCD with them. While they might not like the idea of being “labeled”, their diagnosis is nothing more than a single facet of a whole – and if they don’t try to do something about it now, it will become an all-consuming problem in the future, especially if they’re hoping to avoid therapy as a way to do better in school in preparation for that future.
You May Be Inadvertently Feeding Their Compulsions
When we have children, we want the best for them. We also don’t want to see them suffer. And even though we understand it helps them grow, we sometimes find ourselves in the way of certain challenges that they have to overcome. While managing OCD is scary and difficult, the last thing a parent should do is actively encourage in compulsions.
If you find yourself doing extra loads of laundry or scrubbing surfaces multiple times or otherwise acquiescing to your teen’s strange requests because you think it might help them with their anxiety, understand that compulsions, while effective in the short term, are cyclical, and will always lead back to obsessions.
Therapy works on breaking the cycle. Avoid feeding your teen’s compulsions and avoid excessively reassuring them to help them get out of distress. Instead, work with a professional to learn how to alternatively cope with your teen’s specific obsessions and compulsions and help them avoid them.
Your Teen May Avoid Telling You Things
Obsessive thoughts can be violent, aggressive, and even repelling. Teens are especially caught up with sexuality and their budding feelings for other people, and their OCD might develop in a way that causes them to feel inappropriately towards family, pets, or things. These feelings have nothing to do with your teen themselves but are part of how the disorder takes things we fear or don’t want to think of and thrusts them into the forefront.
As such, your teen may try to hide obsessions and symptoms from you, out of embarrassment and out of fear of judgment. It’s important that both you and your teen understand that you can separate OCD from your child and recognize that it is a very different thing living inside their mind.
OCD Cannot Be Reasoned With
It’s important to remember that OCD does not obey rational thought. It certainly has its own internal logic, but you may not ever understand it, and you cannot simply convince your teen to stop acting a certain way. There is no profound realization to “snap” out of OCD. It takes time and extensive therapy, and lots of adjustment. By supporting your teen throughout the therapeutic process, identifying symptoms, and avoiding anything that might feed them, you can help your teen slowly overcome their condition.