Could My Child Have OCD?

Find out the facts about OCD and how to get help if you suspect your teen might have the disorder…

If you’ve found yourself here, the chances are you’ve noticed some worrying behaviours in your teen and suspect that an anxiety disorder might be to blame. You might be concerned that your teen is showing some signs of having OCD but aren’t sure exactly what it is or what you should do next. We’re here to help. Let’s begin by finding out more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…


OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that involves a person having obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. These thoughts and behaviours can be different from person to person, but they can start to increase over time and make it very difficult for someone to go about daily life. Learn more about obsessive and compulsive behaviours here.

Contrary to popular belief, OCD is not a strive for perfection. The term is often used (incorrectly) to describe a person who is incredibly neat and particular about cleanliness or appearance. While someone who acts like this may well have OCD, it is much more complex than simply being a stickler for having things ‘just-so’.

It is the combination of the severity of intrusive thoughts and time spent on compulsive or ritualistic actions + the distress  + interference to the individual’s day-to-day life that adds up to a probable diagnosis of OCD.


There are many types of ocd including:

  • Rumination or intrusive thoughts and concerns about what they mean.
  • Fears of harm coming to oneself or the family, or of becoming ill.
  • Fears of germs or contamination.
  • An urge to have objects or situations in a very particular order.
  • Thoughts of having upset someone or having made a social taboo.
  • Fear of hurting someone else.
  • Excessive worries about religious implications or of going to hell.

Compulsive behaviours to look out for are:

  • Checking things constantly and repetitively (such as locks or windows).
  • Cleaning themselves excessively due to a fear of contamination.
  • Counting to a certain number before, during or after an activity.
  • Organising and rearranging objects in a very specific way.
  • Hoarding items that most people would throw away.
  • Excessively seeking reassurance.
  • Repeated actions such as tapping, touching or re-writing things over and over until it feels ‘right’.
  • Avoiding particular places or objects which may be dirty or situations that may trigger compulsive behaviours.


Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts in their lives so how can you tell a normal worry from an obsessive thought? After all, we all have concerns about hygiene, getting ill or something bad happening to those closest to us.

The difference is how much time is spent worrying on a particular topic, how drastically it affects the individual and the severity of the actions the person is taking to get ‘rid of’ the obsessive thoughts.


It often appears in puberty or young adulthood and can affect both males and females. There is no one known cause of OCD but there are a few things that could make your teen more at risk of getting it, such as a family history or a traumatic experience in their life. Those with anxiety and high personal standards or perfectionist tendencies are also more likely to develop OCD.

Research has shown that people with OCD often have these personality traits:

  • Self-doubt – worrying that they haven’t completed things to a specific standard.
  • Anxious about uncertainty and the unknown. Very cautious in new situations and needs to plan for all eventualities.
  • A strong sense of responsibility – feeling as if they alone are responsible for bad things happening.
  • Hard-working and a drive for perfectionism.
  • Often described as worriers.
  • Thoughtful, sensitive, and aware of the feelings of those around them.

Environmental and systemic factors have also been shown to trigger or make the onset of OCD in an individual more likely. They can include:

  • Bullying, which has led to low self-esteem or feelings of responsibility for the situation.
  • Difficulties at home where a teen has had to take on more responsibility, such as caring for a younger sibling.
  • A bereavement in the family, which leads to increased anxiety around death or contamination.
  • The parents’ mental health – not limited to OCD but also includes depression and anxiety.


Once diagnosed, OCD is treated with talking therapies and, in some cases, antidepressants. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helps an individual focus on how their attitude, thoughts and feelings can directly affect your feelings and behaviour while ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) is specifically designed for OCD to encourage a person to confront their obsessions and resist the compulsions. 

Therapy can be challenging but expert therapists are there to guide and support the patient throughout the treatment. 

HOW CAN I GET HELP FOR MY TEEN? If you believe your teen may be suffering from obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviours, and may have OCD, you can reach out to your GP for more help. Your GP will be able to refer your teen for specialised treatment. You can also find more advice on OCD and its treatment here.


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