OCD: An Overview

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often a source of humor and excuses by those who don’t have it, but it is a debilitating illness. This paper will define OCD, examine its symptoms, and probe treatments.

DEFINITION AND CAUSES: OCD is defined by its chronic symptoms, obsession and compulsion. Obsessions are thoughts, images, and urges that precipitate extreme anxiety (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013; National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2016; Rachman and de Silva, 2009) Everyone has intrusive thoughts. Adam (2014) cites an experiment by Rachman and de Silva (1978) where people with OCD and unafflicted subjects were asked to list their weird thoughts over a two week period. When these were presented to a panel of experts, the experts could not distinguish the cards written by OCD sufferers from those written by the control group. What distinguishes the thoughts of OCD sufferers, this study suggests, is intensity, an inability to shut the thoughts down.

Compulsions are repetitive or ritualistic actions which an OCD sufferer performs repeatedly in response to some obsession or personal and rigid code of rules. (APA, 2013). Everyone checks or does things repetitively at some time during their day, but the person with OCD performs them so repetitively that she will spend an hour or more doing them each day or the thoughts and actions will disrupt their social, occupation, and other lives. (APA, 2013) The aim may be to relieve anxiety or to prevent some horrible catastrophe from happening. (APA, 2013, Rachman and de Silva, 2009)

Many theories attempt to identify the causes of OCD. This paper will briefly look at three: behaviorism, cognitive approaches, and biological theories.

Behaviorists hold that OCD is a learned behavior, an anxiety acquired through some trauma. They support this by the fact that OCD relieves anxiety. But they fail to explain why many patients cannot recall a triggering event. Nor can it explain the obsessions which appear to drive the ritualistic compulsions (Rachman and de Silva, 2009).

Cognitive modelers look to thought patterns. The Obsessive-Compulsive Working Group identifies six errors in thinking common to OCD patients who believe (1) the mind has the power or the responsibility to stop disasters and other negative outcomes; (2) bad thoughts can cause negative events or that thoughts are the moral equivalent of actually doing bad things; (3) it is possible to have total control over one’s thoughts; (4) Negativism; (5) Perfectionism; and (6) there is no uncertainty (Beyond OCD, 2017).

While the cognitive approach offers a thorough description of thought patterns, it does not explain what causes it. Biological researchers offer the explanation that an inadequate supply of serotonin causes symptoms. Critics argue that cognitive therapies are as effective as psychopharmaceutical treatment (Rachman and de Silva 2009). New research holds that an overactive signal pathway in the amygdala may be the culprit, offering new treatments (Ullrich, Weber, Post Poop, Grein, Gonzalez, Kreis, Üçeyler, Lesch, Schmidtt, Schuh, 2017).

WHAT OCD LOOKS LIKE: Adam (2014) cites the first case of OCD in the medical literature, “Madamoiselle F.” (Esquirol, 1845/1938). A French woman and accountant was obsessed with the thought that she was a thief. So she refused to wear aprons, removed the hems of her dresses, avoided handling money, rubbed her feet to remove any money that might have insinuated itself between her toes, shook her hand vigorously to do the same with her fingers, and checked and rechecked her books despite her reputation for honesty. Esquirol labeled her affliction as monomania, a partial insanity because she was aware of her madness as are most OCD sufferers.

The writer knows a few people with the disorder and many more who self diagnose. Self diagnosis and exaggeration of symptom was the subject of research for therapists and psychiatrists working at a clinic dedicated to OCD. Examining ten suspect cases, they found these clients tended to describe their symptoms using highly technical language harvested from the DSM which did not match the descriptions used by bona fide cases. Furthermore, the patients often manifested the nocebo effect where they developed unusual and undocumented side effects from the medications they were prescribed. Other mental disorders were frequently identified for this group. When they were questioned about their self diagnosis, many became angry and defensive. One man “pulled a knife from his waist, placed it on the table, and asked why the doctor did not believe that he had OCD” (Fontenelle, Lins-Martin, Natalia, Meica, Lima, de Menezes 2014). Clearly the popularization of the illness in best-selling books and television shows such as Monk has had its effect in creating a personality or other illness based obsession with having OCD.

The writer’s friends have genuine OCD diagnoses. One kept poking at the bridge of his nose until one day his finger slipped and he jabbed himself in the eye, detaching his retina. Another cannot go to bed without checking every door, window, lock, and appliance. This chore can take her more than an hour. She worries that her adoptive daughter mimics the behavior. Dematillomania, a disorder on the OCD spectrum, afflicts another friend of his. She picks at her face at the slightest sign of acne until she cannot go out. Others are concerned with germs and their appearance. (Sax 2017)

Obsession with contracting HIV bothers many OCD sufferers. Rapoport began noticing this trend in germophobia arising before the publication of her best-selling book in (1989). One of her patients lost his job after having a brawl over whether a co-worker should get an AIDS test. Adam (2014) says that he acts as if it is still 1988 at the height of the AIDS scare. He contrasts himself with Andy Warhol who would not eat food prepared by other gay men or wear clothes that had been washed and folded by gay men. Warhol, Adam argues, did not display OCD because he was acting on the best common knowledge of his time. Adam, on the other hand, obsessively calls HIV hotlines to check if he has been infected with HIV and should get an AIDS test – he is always told that he has nothing to worry about – but he is never convinced that he is not in danger. Louise was convinced that she was HIV positive, so she showered for hours, washed her hands and feet several times a day, and wouldn’t prepare or touch food for fear that she might contaminate it. Her ultimate catastrophe was infecting and killing her friends and family (Stuart 2017).

Shannon Shy’s illness took a different course. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines despite his illness. Whenever he saw a car by the side of the road, he worried that there might be a dead body. Even though he tried to ignore the compulsion to stop, he often found himself turning around to check to be sure that everything was all right. He also obsessed over the covers of underground gas tank at filling stations: he would not step on them and otherwise avoided them. If he happened to drive over one, he would run to tell the attendant what he had done because he feared he might have caused an explosion or a fire. When he served as Officer of the Watch, he meticulously recorded every petty event that happened on his shift lest he leave out something that might be important. Other officers went out of their way to serve with him. He finally sought help when he heard the sound of a piece of lumber falling to the ground and imagined it was gunfire. There was no doubt that the lumber had caused the sound – he saw it fall. But he turned back and drove around until he found a pair of police officers who politely took his report (Shy 2009).

A Swedish study found that children with OCD experience more sleep disturbances than children with psychosis or school children of comparable age. This correlation awaits further research (Ivarsson and Larsson 2009). Another study, also out of Sweden, showed that people living with OCD have a higher suicide rate than those suffering from other psychiatric illnesses as well as the general population (Fernandez de la Cruz, Rydell, Runeson, D’Onofrio , Brander, Ruck, Lichtenstein, Larsson, Mataix-Cols 2016). OCD is not only a debilitating illness but a dangerous one.

TREATMENT: Psychiatrists prescribe SSRIs such Fluorhexidrine to control obsessions, compulsions, and accompanying anxiety. Anafranil – a tricyclic antidepressant has been used successfully since the late 1980s when Rapoport used it with her patients. The finding that overactivity of the receptor tyrosine kinase TrkB is at the root of OCD suggests that cancer drugs controlling the Ras/ERK-MAP kinase cascade may be of help (Ullrich, Weber, Post Poop, Grein, Gonzalez, Kreis, Üçeyler, Lesch, Schmidtt, Schuh, 2017).

Psychosurgeries – including brain surgery, Gamma knife, and Deep Brain Stimulation — have proved helpful in some severe cases.

SUMMARY: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a debilitating illness with its origins in the amygdala. Sufferers can experience symptoms that cripple their ability to function. The intensity of the obsessions may lead some to attempt to escape their pain via the avenue of suicide. New research offers the hope of new treatments using already available cancer drugs. It is not something to be joked about.

Citations

Adam, David. (2014). The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Beyond OCD. (2017). What causes OCD? Retrieved April 30, 2017 from http://beyondocd.org/information-for-individuals/what-causes-ocd/.

Esquirol, J. (1845/1938). Mental Maladies: A Treatise on Insanity. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard. Cited in Adam (2014).

Fernandez de la Cruz L , Rydell M , Runeson B , D’Onofrio BM , Brander G , Ru?ck C , Lichtenstein P , Larsson H , Mataix-Cols D (2016). Suicide in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A population-based study of 36,788 Swedish patients. Molecular Psychiatry, 2016 Jul 19. doi:10.1038/mp.2016.115

Ivarsson, Tord and Larsson, Bo. 2009. Sleep problems as reported by parents in Swedish children and adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), child psychiatric outpatients and school children. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 63:6. DOI: 10.3109/08039480903075200

National Institute of Mental Health (2016). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml.

Rachman, Stanley and de Silva, Padmal. (1978). Abnormal and Normal Obsessions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 16, pp. 233-48.

Rachman, Stanley and de Silva, Padmal (2009). Facts : Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder : The Facts (4th edition). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Rapoport, Judith L M.D. 1989. The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing: The Experience and Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Boston: E.P. Dutton.

Shy, Shannon. 2009. “It’ll be Okay.”: How I Kept Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) from Ruining My Life. Bloomington, Indiana: Authorhouse.

Stuart, Ralph. (2017). The OCD Stories: Stories that educate and inspire those with OCD. Kindle edition downloaded March 28, 2017 from https://www.amazon.com/OCD-Stories-educate-inspire-those-ebook/dp/B06XVF7DNM.

Ullrich M, Weber M, Post A M, Popp S, Grein J, Zechner M, Guerrero González H, Kreis A, Schmitt A G, Üçeyler N, Lesch K-P, Schuh K. 2017. OCD-like behavior is caused by dysfunction of thalamo-amygdala circuits and upregulated TrkB/ERK-MAPK signaling as a result of SPRED2 deficiency. Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2016.232 cited in University of Würzburg. 2017. Cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03

My Family History of Mental Illness

I remember my grandmother in her baggy dresses that covered every inch of her body like the shrouds that covered the furniture when the summer folk had left for the season. My cousin Heidi was surprised when I told her that my grandmother — her aunt — had spent many hours of each day lying in bed.

“But she was always so jolly, so friendly.”

“Yes,” I said. “She could be like that. Like so many of us she knew how to fake happiness.” I do not mean that as a slander. I admire how she could pull herself together despite her suffering and be there.

I know my grandmother loved me. When I was young, she used to get in big fights with my mother for the way she mistreated me. The rows were long and loud — I would go to the very back of the yard so that I could not hear them.

My mother had her own problems: there was a deep-seated meanness in her. She disparaged my grandmother when we were alone together, complaining about what she thought as Stella’s laziness. When I was depressed, she was panicked at the thought that would do the same, so she hectored me about getting a job — any job — no matter how inappropriate or soul-killing it was. Once, when she was in the hospital with roof-busting high blood pressure, I told the doctor about our family secret. A psychiatrist prescribed Prozac. For three months, she was a nice person.

A Letter to My Illness

You moved in when I was very young, shoved me into your corner, made me cry and when I cried you caused the kids to laugh at me, taunt me saying “Don’t cry Joel.” Sister Annette told me to buck up, to learn to be a man and hold the tears back. Damn you and damn her. I couldn’t say it at the time. Two years of living under the threat of her ruler, but the taunts were worse, hurt worse. The more they called me names, you and my parents reasoned, the stronger I would become but this practice was flawed. I played alone or with other losers. My mother criticized my choice of friends, calling them slow, hinting that they were retarded. Even among them I lived in a shell and the kids continued to wear at my head, trying to produce the streams of salt water they loved so much to see. I don’t know what brought you to make a home in my head. I don’t know why you made me sensitive to the twist in their voices. Was it the arrival of my two cousins who stayed for a year? If it was, you stayed beyond a year, brought me suffering. I looked at Jesus and wondered what was worse: crucifixion or this hell I was going through? If I was on the cross with Him, it was an absurdity.

No matter how beautiful your strategy …

Today was the day of the Meeting of the Minds, the largest mental health conference in Orange County, California. It is an annual conference sponsored by the Mental Health Association, for patients and family (“consumers”), clinicians, and first responders.

This year, we had a table. We arrived at 7am and set up. We were quickly flooded with people making the rounds (memo for next year: bring more literature). By the time of the first session, another member of our chapter had showed up. I went to the session while Joel stayed at the table, just for the first session, he said, but when I got back just before lunch, it turned out that he and the other member had been busy at the table the whole time. I took the table after lunch so they could go to their favorite sessions.

Here is what the talks were like (the ones that I attended).

First session: I went to a panel discussion on Recovery, with the panel coming from a local Wellness Center. The session unfortunately started late, as some people were held up by unexpected traffic, but we did get to hear all four speakers. The first two speakers had suffered horrific child abuse, and then grown up to struggle with mental illness. The second two had come from more supportive families, but faced other troubles and, again, mental illness. But whatever their different paths, a common theme was that recovery involved (besides meds) the support of others, and then giving back that support to others in turn. Some quotes from the last speaker, just for an example:

Instead of praying every day to God for my health, I prayed for my death. What turned it around was NAMI…. I could believe in people the way that people believed in me…. four years sober … believe in people who have mental illness.

Second session: Two psychiatrists from the John Henry Foundation spoke about “Schizophrenia: Cognitive Testing to Enhance Diagnostic and Treatment Options.” “An ab workout for your brain.” Schizophrenia involves positive systems (delusions and hallucinations), and negative symptoms (flat affect and poverty of thought), but also problems in cognition: processing of information, flexible thinking, and memory. There are medications for positive symptoms, and even some medications for negative symptoms, for for cognitive deficits, the speakers said, you need something else. The John Henry Foundation uses cognitive testing to evaluate people’s abilities in seven domains: Processing Speed, Attention, Working Memory, Verbal Learning, Visual Learning, Problem Solving, and Social Cognition. Once your weak areas are identified, you can build them through simple cognitive exercises, done daily. We got taken through some games that tested us in each area. (I appear to be way better at processing speed and working memory than at visual memory.) These exercises can be useful not just for people with schizophrenia but for anyone. Even neurotypical people can use them to build their weak areas, and people with other DSM diagnoses, such as ADD or borderline personality disorder, can use them (for example, exercises that help with attention for people with ADD, and meditation or exercises that help with emotional gating for people with borderline personality disorder).

As I didn’t go to the afternoon session, the final talk I heard was the keynote address right after lunch, “Dream with your Eyes Open,” by Eric Arauz, who went from the childhood trauma of seeing his family unravel when his father became mentally ill, to repeating his father’s mental illness, to, unlike his father, finding his way to recovery. Now he is the president of the Trauma Institute of New Jersey, and also an impressive public speaker, going by his keynote address. I got a copy of his book for our chapter, which I’ll read and hope to review later. My title comes from a line in his talk that struck me: “No matter how beautiful your strategy, you have to eventually look at the outcomes.” For Arauz, that outcome involved moving from what he calls a “Chaos Narrative: No Map or Destination” to one that rewrote his story in a more positive way.

 

What Does it Take to Make a Diagnosis?

There are a couple of people who sometimes respond to my threads who don’t like it when I say we shouldn’t be calling people mentally ill just because we don’t like them or act in ways that we don’t like. I think it is time for me to outline what is required to make a diagnosis:

  • You have to be trained as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. (Most “experts” or the “peanut crunching crowd” are not.)
  • You have to have actually examined the person. This goes beyond watching them on television or reading about them in magazines or newspapers.
  • You have to use proper diagnostic criteria.
  • You must be neutral. Most of the pseudo-diagnoses that I have seen fail magnificently on this score. In my experience, progressives are the worst, but this does not exonerate others including conservatives.
  • You must have the patient’s welfare in mind, not an opportunity to insult.
  • You must avoid stigmatizing people with mental illness who are not anything like the person you are diagnosing. E.g. By saying that terrorists are mentally ill, you are implying that people who are mentally ill are like terrorists. (Research shows that people with mental illness are less likely to be violent than the normal population.

Dealing with anxiety over the holidays

I wrote another article for “The Mighty” that I wanted to share

http://themighty.com/2015/12/7-tips-for-surviving-the-holidays-when-you-live-with-anxiety/

At my house, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. The kids love it; twice the parties, more gifts and more fun. But for me, this means twice the stress and more anxiety. And while most of the severe symptoms of my mental illness are under control, it can be harder to manage my anxiety as the holidays approach.

But I’ve learned little adjustments can make a huge difference. Here are some things that help reduce my anxiety over the holidays:

1. Take two cars to a holiday party.

It’s easier to relax when I know I have an exit plan. If my husband and I take separate cars to an event, I know I can leave at any time.

2. Find a “safe space.”

When we’re at a holiday party or family gathering, I make sure I find a quieter room or place outside to get away from all the noise. Or I spend time with the animals if there are any pets. It just needs to be a space where I can recharge.

3. Give yourself permission to walk away from upsetting conversations.

There’s always that one person who wants to argue about politics or compare achievements. I used to dread holidays mainly because of these uncomfortable interactions. Now, I know I don’t have to listen. I can walk away or not participate.

4. Keep it low-key.

In my house, we don’t feel pressure to entertain guests or worry about buying the “perfect gift.” There’s so much going on already, we don’t want to add to the stress by holding unrealistic expectations. We try to keep it low-pressure and enjoy what we have.

5. Know it’s OK to say, “No.”

Around the holidays there are lots of opportunities to help others, but if making that batch of cookies or running that errand is going to cause me too much stress, I have started saying no. The holidays are a time to give, but it’s important to know your limits.

6. Accept help.

On the other hand, if people do offer me help, I’ve learned it’s OK to accept it. I try to remind myself they wouldn’t ask if they weren’t willing.

7. Remember to actually enjoy yourself.

As much as there are parts about holiday gatherings I don’t enjoy, there are things I like. Certain foods, smells, people and seeing the children’s excitement. I try to enjoy those special moments — it keeps the holidays in perspective.

Madness in Senegal

I wasn’t able to arrange any interviews. The doctors in the Senegalese mental hospitals were defensive, fearful that I would paint a bad picture of conditions, or busy. The assurances of the State Department staff who were helping me didn’t sooth this naive patriotism or persuade them to give me half an hour, but I learned a little. There’s no social security in Senegal, so the mentally ill either rely on the care of their family or begging. I didn’t see many people who struck me as being afflicted on the streets (unlike London and Paris), so I assumed that they had been assimilated into the crowd and received care of sorts from other dwellers of Dakar’s streets.

The luckier among the mentally ill receive support from their families who send them to mental institutions where they receive treatment in the form of psychotropics. These help as long as the money holds out — a familiar story to those of us who remember the dark days before Obamacare. I can’t tell you about the conditions in the hospitals; so, I don’t know if they followed the best standards of care or if they were dank prisons where patients were chained or locked into padded cells.

Mental illness is recognized even in the more remote and traditional areas, which refutes the myth that people in Africa regard people living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as holy. Instead, they are ostracized and feared — as they have always been.

Most of the mentally ill disappear into the mass of people walking the streets of this city. They are ignored and forgotten, their symptoms shrugged off which is not the reverence of the myth makers. There’s rumor of an American in one of the suburbs who is in episode; there is no retrieving him and taking him home, however, because he will not come into the embassy for evaluation.

If I stayed around, I might see more; time is running out, however.

What could go wrong?

FDA asked to consider adherence sensor on Abilify

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150910/NEWS/150919997

http://www.proteus.com/press-releases/u-s-fda-accepts-first-digital-medicine-new-drug-application-for-otsuka-and-proteus-digital-health/

Proteus Health, located in Redwood City CA, along with Tokyo based Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. have a new drug application that is ready for review by regulators determined by the FDA.

The new drug is embedded with an ingestible sensor. When the medication, and sensor, reach the stomach, it sends a signal to a patch the patient wears externally. The information can be sent to physicians or caregivers with consent.

The sensor has previously been approved in a placebo taken along with a medication.

The goal is to help with medication compliance. All well and good up to this point. But, what is the first drug they choose? Abilify, an atypical anti-psychotic. It isn’t always taken for psychosis. It can be used as an add-on for depression and other ways. But, it is also used to treat psychosis.

Some, not uncommon, delusions are that:

you have sensors embedded, that your medicine has been poisoned or tampered with or that people are tracking you. This is to be taken by consent, but personally, I think they chose a bad medication.

I don’t know what is wrong with injectable abilify? That would be my choice.

 

Review: An Angel at My Table

Janet Frame endured eight years as a mental patient before she went on to become the poet laureate of New Zealand. She was misdiagnosed. While she was incarcerated she underwent electro-convulsive therapy without anesthesia and was lined up for a lobotomy until her doctor learned that she had won a prestigious literary prize and took her off the list. This movie is the story of three periods in her life. Her time in a mental hospital is the second.

I would guess that social anxiety and, perhaps, depression were the demons that afflicted Frame. She would hide in corners. She failed at her work as a teacher. When two of her sisters died, she crashed into a frozen despair.

If Angel at My Table is accurate, Frame was most certainly not schizophrenic. An early scene in the second part of the film shows her riding to the hospital in a car with two women who are severely impaired by their illnesses. She stands out as unafflicted by whatever is troubling her fellow passengers. Things were done to her while she was in the hospital just because they were the latest treatment. Her mother desperately signed the papers for the lobotomy: if Frame had been trapped in a mindless system, we would have lost a great author. Fortunately, a doctor noticed in time and helped her win her release.

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Should I Have Intervened?

My first year of college I was taking a math class. I noticed a boy who sat in my front of me had friends he would laugh and talk with. And one day I got a glance, it just caught my eye, of some cuts on his wrist. He found ways to hide them, but every now and again I’d see a glimmer of them.

And I wondered for weeks if I should say something.

I considered going up to him, pulling my sleeve up and say, “I do it too.”

I thought about how I wouldn’t want anyone to call me out on it if they saw my own.

I thought about how hard he tried to hide it and so I should respect that.

I thought about whether intervening was something I should do for his safety.

But I was in the middle of my own battle with self injury.

And I never did anything.

And I can never get it out of mind…

I never did or say anything to him.

Should I have?

-Quinn