Could YOU recognize the signs of OCD?

Think of OCD and images of compulsive hand-washers spring to mind.

David Beckham has spoken of having it, as have actresses Charlize Theron and Megan Fox.

But most of us actually know very little about the condition, despite two percent of the population – so literally millions of us – having it and suffering the often devastating consequences of it.

In recent years, ‘OCD’ has become a bit of a buzzword, used frivolously as an off-the-cuff statement: ‘Oh, I checked the door twice. I am soooooo OCD!’ or ‘Oh, I washed my hands three times. How OCD am I?’

Sadly, in reality, OCD is more than that – much, much more.

It is a deep-rooted, anxiety-based, debilitating and destructive mental illness that affects both the sufferers and their carers alike.

Once well established, the severity of this dreadful illness – and the misery it rains down on the sufferer – can destroy relationships and ruin the lives of not only the person suffering, but also everyone around them.

I know this only too well as my daughter Samantha, now 26, battled OCD for four years on the back of an eating disorder (I firmly believe the two illnesses are linked). 

Thankfully, today, after a long journey, our family has watched her grow into a confident and vibrant young lady – free from the shackles of this devastating condition.


OCD is a serious mental illness that changes a person’s way of thinking, their feelings, their behavior, or – in probability – all three.

It deserves the same attention and respect as any physical illness. Yet sadly it is still often woefully misunderstood, feared and trivialized – because it cannot be seen.

Everyone has their own idiosyncratic habits that can become a little obsessive from time to time, and intrusive thoughts that may seem a little too dark, or fears and phobias that can have a brief impact.

However, the difference from illness is that someone who is not suffering from OCD is usually able to make a very clear distinction between their thoughts and reality.


It is important to recognize the difference between ‘OCD’ as a generalized slang term and the actual medical condition, which can be totally debilitating and consume every aspect of the sufferer’s life.

Below are some examples to help distinguish between potentially non-OCD behavior and true OCD behavior. 

As you can see, a real threat and a perceived – and often irrational – threat are two very different things.

However, people suffering from OCD simply cannot ignore a thought – despite often knowing it is irrational or a threat is unrealistic.

This is because their perceptions of the level of danger, either to themselves or to others – usually loved ones – can cause their anxiety levels to rise.

This feeling can become so overpowering that they over-intensify their own sense of responsibility.

This spikes their anxiety even further, pushing them towards compulsive behaviours in order to try to stop bad things from happening to them or others.


‘Supporting the diet with foods rich in B vitamins such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, or dairy) and eating fortified breakfast cereals and enriched soy or rice milk may help symptoms of OCD,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of the wellbeing brand Healthspan. 

Studies involving people with OCD have found significantly lower levels of vitamin B12 and vitamin D compared with similar people without OCD. 

There are also cases with people who are severely deficient in vitamin B12 present with obsessive compulsive disorder which responds well to vitamins B12 treatment.  

‘Alternatively, you try a vitamin B supplement such as Healthspan Vitamin B12 Blackcurrant spray which provides 250mcg per spray,’ Dr Brewer says. 

Milk thistle is another herbal remedy that has long been used in some countries to help with the symptoms of OCD, she adds.

‘In 2010, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study compared the effects of milk thistle to that of the antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) in treating OCD (600 milligrams of milk thistle vs 30 milligrams of Prozac daily). It was found that there was no significant difference between milk thistle and Prozac with respect to control of OCD symptoms.’   

  • Always check with your doctor before taking any herbal medications if on prescription medications


Researchers propose that OCD can be divided into five different types, based on the nature of the symptoms experienced.

Due to the complexity of the condition, OCD will usually ‘attach itself’ to something the sufferer cares about particularly, or to their weaknesses such as food, loved ones, cleanliness, religion and personal fears. For this reason, no two people experience OCD in exactly the same way.

Sufferers can also experience more than one kind of OCD at any one time.

The five main types are listed below, but it is important to remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list and there will always be types of OCD that express themselves differently and that are not included here.

Generally speaking, sufferers will be focused on one or more of the following:

1. FEAR OF CONTAMINATION – sufferers are sometimes referred to as ‘washers and cleaners’

WHAT IT IS: The primary fear or obsession is that something is dirty or contaminated in some way that may cause harm, illness or even death to the sufferer or someone close to them. 

The compulsion is to clean and wash in an attempt to ‘correct’ this thought. 

But as with all OCD sufferers, whatever they do, it is never enough and often is taken to the extreme.


  • The person opens doors with their sleeve, elbow, foot or anything else to avoid contact with their hands. (What if there are germs on the handle?)
  • The person avoids shaking hands with you, or if they do, quickly runs to the bathroom to wash their hands. (What if the other person is not clean?)
  • The person will do anything to avoid visiting a GP surgery or a hospital. (What if I contract MRSA, or any other disease?)
  • The person spends unnecessary hours cleaning their house. (What if I contaminate the family? What kind of person would that make me?)
  • The person avoids eating out in public places. (What if they have poor hygiene and do not wash up properly?)

WHY IT HAPPENS: Of course, cleanliness and basic personal hygiene are important. But for people with this form of OCD, the cleaning or washing is often carried out multiple times. The internal dialogue will most likely be: ‘enough is never enough, just once more, just in case, just to make sure’.

As with most types of OCD, because of the time consumed, there can be a knock-on effect to the sufferer’s working life, school life, family life and relationships, not to mention damage to the part of the body being scrubbed.

2. CHECKING – sufferers are sometimes referred to as ‘checkers’

WHAT IT IS: The primary fear or obsession here is that something may be damaged, or someone may be offended, by something the sufferer has done or not done, said or not said. The compulsion is the need to check that everything is okay and that nothing bad will happen.


  • The person may continually drive past their house for fear of it being on fire, flooded or burgled. 
  • They may continually check that their house windows and car doors are locked, for fear of being burgled.
  • They may call, text and email as soon as they have left the house, to make sure their loved ones are okay, for fear that they have been hurt.
  • They may constantly seek reassurance that they have not offended someone in some way.

WHY IT HAPPENS: Naturally, if we have concerns about any of these things, it is perfectly normal and to check just once, or even twice, but someone who has OCD will check again and again, sometimes for hours on end.

3. SYMMETRY AND ORDERLINESS – sufferers are sometimes referred to as ‘organizers’

WHAT IT IS: We all know someone who likes things ‘just so’ – and we sometimes accuse them of being ‘so OCD’. Perhaps they are – or not. The person who suffers from this form of OCD may have to arrange and rearrange objects until they are ‘just right’ over and over again; this is the compulsion.


  • These could range from lining up cushions perfectly or having the cans in the kitchen cupboards with all the labels facing forward.
  • These things in themselves are not an issue, unless their absence causes anxiety or discomfort to the person, and a form of OCD can then develop.
  • Here, the sufferer starts spending an inordinate amount of time getting things lined up ‘just right’ before they leave the house or car – which could make them late for work, school, appointments or other timed commitments.

WHY IT HAPPENS: The obsessive fear is that perfect order is necessary to avoid uneasiness and distress, or to prevent harm occurring.


Many people with OCD worry that the content of their sexual obsessions may indicate that they could be a rapist or pedophile or sexually perverted in some shape or form.

It is important to say here that the sufferer experiencing these thoughts does not want to have them; they find them very upsetting, painful and guilt-provoking, and have no intention of acting upon them.

It can be particularly difficult for a parent with this type of OCD, as it could cause them to avoid any close contact with their own children, leading to potential emotional distress for all involved.

This allows the thoughts to not only win, but to destroy the day-to-day life of the sufferer and the people who love them.

A sufferer may be very reluctant to open up and seek treatment because of the fear that they might be judged, labelled and/or misunderstood.

However, it is important to remember that a trained professional would immediately realise this is no more than OCD, and the chance of the person acting on these thoughts, as with other types of OCD, is less than minimal.

4. INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS – sufferers are sometimes referred to as ‘obsessors’ or ‘ruminators’

WHAT IT IS: Most people will experience intrusive thoughts of some kind, at some point in their lives; these can be centered around violence, sex or religion, to name just a few.

For most people, these will come and go. However, for an OCD sufferer, these thoughts can be constant and do not leave the mind, triggering debilitating anxiety.


  • Religion: For example, the person may believe that sins will not be forgiven by God and they will go to hell.
  • ‘Magical’ thinking: The person may believe if they don’t carry on a chain letter or post on social media, something bad will happen to them or someone they care about. Or, if they step on cracks in the pavement or walk over more than three drains at one time, something bad will happen.
  • Relationships: The person may obsess over whether they love their partner, making endless pros and cons lists, but never coming to a conclusion.
  • Violence: The sufferer may have thoughts about hurting a child, pet or loved one, pushing someone off a bridge or cutting someone.
  • Sexual obsessions: The person may fear, for example, that they’re attracted to a family member and/or will become attracted to a child, or have inappropriate thoughts about touching the child.

5. HOARDING – sufferers are sometimes referred to as ‘hoarders’

WHAT IT IS: Hoarding is basically the inability to rid oneself of seemingly unusable, damaged and/or worn-out possessions. Many people can be loosely labelled as ‘hoarders’; however, for those who suffer from this complex form of OCD, it can be a very stressful – and in severe cases, affect the person’s day-to-day living.


  • ‘Prevention of harm’ hoarding – A sufferer will fear harm will be caused if they throw things away. For example, a sharp object if discarded in the trash could somehow seriously harm anyone who comes into contact with the disposal of rubbish.
  • ‘Deprivation’ hoarding – A sufferer feels they will find a need for something later in life.
  • ‘Emotional’ hoarding – being unable to throw things of sentimental value away.
Crilly's book, out now, is designed to help other parents of people suffering from OCD

Crilly’s book, out now, is designed to help other parents of people suffering from OCD


Always remember: recovery is possible. It is not an easy journey, but it is definitely one worth taking.

OCD is recognised by the professional medical community and can be treated successfully with time, perseverance, determination, the right therapy for the individual and, in some cases, medication.

No two cases are ever the same – they are all unique to the individual sufferer – which is why treatment techniques and recovery journeys are so varied.

For anyone closely connected to OCD, be it a sufferer, a carer or a loved-one, it can be a very lonely and isolating experience.

If you are the sufferer, I have the greatest compassion for you.

You will no doubt, at some point, feel that you are losing your mind, particularly if the people around you are fearful, or dismissive about your problem.

Always have hope because anything is possible… my family is living proof of that.