Information on OCD, research and treatment

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About OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting mental health condition in which a person has uncontrollable, intrusive and reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that (s)he feels the urge to repeat over and over, in the attempt to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.

OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder after depression, alcohol/substance misuse, and social phobia/anxiety. According to the World Health Organisation, it is one of the 10 most debilitating condition of all medical disorders[1]. OCD occurs all over the world, although cultural factors may shape the content (e.g. religious obsessions are more common in some communities.) It affects 2% of the population, women, men and children.

The condition typically starts during early adulthood, although symptoms can develop at any age. Once the condition has developed, it interferes significantly with the person’s life and puts a great social and economic burden on the person and their environment.

Symptoms range from mild to severe. Some people with OCD may spend a couple of hours a day engaged in obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaviour; for others the condition can completely take over their lives.

Economic and social burden of OCD
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked OCD as the tenth most disabling illness of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life.

According to the charity OCD UK, and the Health Technology Assessment (2016), OCD presents a considerable burden to the individual, family, health services, and society as a whole. The total cost accrued as a result of OCD is difficult to measure; the direct costs to health services and patients of medical care represents only one aspect of the total burden. Indirect costs to patients and society as a result of lost productivity and wider impacts on informal care from friends and family members are also substantial. [2]

OCD, compared with other anxiety related disorders, is associated with more marked social and work related occupational impairment. According to OCD UK, a US report suggests that the economic impact of OCD in the US is at $8.4 billion every year. [3]

One report once estimated that, on average, a person with OCD loses three years of wages over their lifetime and if an OCD sufferer incurs losses of £483.04 for every week they are absent, this would amount to a total of £75,354 due to unemployment over this 3-year period, not including lost opportunities for career advancement and the cost to families and carers over their respective working lifetimes. [3]

The long-term social and economic costs are still likely to be greatly underestimated, but this highlights the importance of providing early intervention and the highest quality of care and treatment for people with OCD. Between 10% and 27% of OCD patients attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime.



[1] Bobes J, Gonzalez MP, Bascaran MT, Arango C, Saiz PA, Bousono M. (2001). Quality of life and disability in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eur Psychiatry 2001;16:239-45.
[2] Skapinakis P, Caldwell D, Hollingworth W, Bryden P, Fineberg N, Salkovskis P, et al. A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of pharmacological and psychological interventions for the management of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children/adolescents and adults. Health Technol Assess 2016;20(43).