DALLAS (ABP) — Self-mutilation is not the only type of obsessive-compulsive disorder affecting youth, counselor Carrie Beaird told youth ministers at a recent seminar. The disorders can be as varied as the people afflicted, but they share some common traits.
For example, people obsessed with air-conditioning vents would not be able to pass any vents without stopping to make sure they were working properly, securely affixed and not about to fall out of the ceiling, and no one was stuck inside them, she said, noting the actions they take are the compulsion.
“They try to make the obsession go away by doing the compulsions,” she explained. “If I just do this, I can quit thinking about it.” But each time, the brain returns to the same place, causing these things to be repeated over and over.
The obsessive-compulsive cycle takes a lot of time and eventually takes over the person's day — affecting school or job performance, social life, interpersonal relationships and everything else that is part of a routine day for most people.
“These people are just tired when they come in for treatment,” Beaird said at a seminar sponsored by Dallas Baptist Association. Beaird, a counselor in private practice, works as a consultant with the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission.
People with these obsessions — thoughts, images or impulses that occur again and again and feel out of control — usually don't want to have these ideas and realize they are out of place and are not normal, she said.
“People obsessed with air-conditioning vents know that chances are pretty good that no one is stuck in there, but they can't quit stopping to check,” she noted.
Most obsessions are associated with fear — “If I don't do this, something bad will happen.”
Beaird listed the five most prevalent obsessions of teenagers:
— Fear of contamination by germs and dirt. This is most evidenced in repeated bathing and washing. “Some teenagers I have met with this obsession have rubbed their hands raw because they have scrubbed them so long.”
— Fear they harmed someone else — either physically or through words. If they think they might have said something to hurt someone, they will apologize profusely and repeatedly, even if they don't know what they may have said and are told that whatever it was, it is forgiven, Beaird said.
— Religious or moral doubt. “They have excessive worry about hell, being a sinner or feeling they are just bad,” she said. “If a person is obsessed on religion, they are not hearing grace. They are just hearing punishment for sin.”
Many times these people deal with that by shutting out sermons by counting tiles, slats in window blinds or other things, she said.
“This is not what we have all done as kids because we were bored. Our relief came when the service was over. We were bored, and when it was over we forgot about it. If you were compulsive, you'd have to go back in after you've gotten to the car to make sure you didn't miss any. This may sound funny, but sympathetically, this is ruling these people's lives,” Beaird said. “The person with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) can't hear grace because they have to do something themselves. So they count.”
— Forbidden thoughts. “This is usually stuff like seeing people without clothes on, having sex in inappropriate places or wanting to kill somebody,” she said. Most try to crowd these thoughts out by ordering and arranging things.
— A need to ask, tell or confess — “not five or six times, but 30 or 40 times. This often leads to compulsive praying that almost becomes a chant: 'Forgive me, please forgive, oh, please forgive,' over and over again.”
Symptoms tend to come and go, often are brought on by stressful life situations, and can begin at any time from preschool through adulthood, but usually begin before age 40.
“And the really tragic thing is that to get the right diagnosis, you usually have to go to three or four doctors. Often they will hear: 'You're just worried or upset right now. You need to relax,'” Beaird said.
Family and friends can play a big part in treatment, she said. “These people are not crazy. The body's chemicals are just off.” Medication is highly effective in combating the disorder.