Mental Health Awareness Month: Navigating the challenges of OCD

These behaviours serve as a temporary respite from the anxiety-inducing obsessions. Picture by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

These behaviours serve as a temporary respite from the anxiety-inducing obsessions. Picture by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Published Jul 28, 2023


During Mental Health Awareness Month, Shai Friedland, a clinical psychologist who specialises in cognitive-behavioural therapy, is on a mission to raise awareness about OCD's (Obsessive compulsive disorder) impact on relationships.

Having personally experienced the transformative power of therapy, Friedland is passionate about helping others navigate the challenges posed by this often misunderstood disorder.

Discussing OCD with South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), Friedland said OCD is often referred to as the ‘’secretive disorder’’ because many individuals suffering from it hesitate to seek help, believing their thoughts and behaviours to be strange and incomprehensible.

Unlike schizophrenia, individuals with OCD have a firm grasp on reality but struggle to find acceptance and understanding from those around them.

Whether it is romantic or familial relations, OCD can have a profound effect on relationships, according to Friedland.

As a result of the disorder, individuals with this disorder experience intrusive thoughts, guilt and a compulsion to engage in repetitive behaviours aimed at alleviating their anxiety.

Understanding OCD's intricate dynamics can be challenging for family members and partners, he said in conversation.

‘’People with OCD often rely on their compulsions as a way to manage the immense emotional turmoil and anxiety triggered by intrusive thoughts.

“However, the desperation to maintain the relationship's normality while battling obsessions can cause tremendous strain and frustration,’’ explains Friedland, drawing from years of professional experience.

There are various types of compulsions associated with OCD, including cleaning and washing compulsions, checking compulsions, ordering and arranging compulsions, and mental rituals.

These behaviours serve as a temporary respite from the anxiety-inducing obsessions. However, they can contribute to a vicious cycle of frustration and strained relationships.

For those with OCD, the anxiety brought on by obsessions frequently takes precedence and turns into a never-ending battle. They struggle with crippling thoughts, guilt, and dread upsetting the balance in their relationships.

As awareness grows and misconceptions dissolve, it is crucial to provide the necessary support for individuals with OCD and their families.

Friedland emphasises the importance of family members and partners educating themselves about the nature of OCD and its profound impact. #

Fostering empathy, open communication, and seeking professional help can make a significant difference in navigating the complexities of OCD within relationships.

What exactly are obsessions and compulsions?

Obsessions, according to the International OCD Foundation, are repeated thoughts, images or urges that a person feels outside of the person's control. OCD sufferers do not wish to have these ideas and find them to be unsettling. Most of the time, OCD sufferers realise that these thoughts are illogical.

Obsessions frequently come with strong and unpleasant emotions like fear, disgust, anxiety, and doubt, as well as a sense that everything must be done ‘’just right’’.

Compulsions are recurrent actions or thoughts used by a person to oppose, neutralise, or make their obsessions disappear. OCD sufferers are aware that this is only a temporary fix, but they nonetheless rely on their compulsions because they lack other coping mechanisms.

Repetitive behaviours or mental acts that individuals feel driven to perform in response to an obsession, aimed to prevent distress or harm.

Recent statistics associated with OCD show that it is a relatively common disorder. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), OCD affects approximately 2-3% of the global population, making it one of the most prevalent mental health conditions.

Signs to look for in OCD include:


Fear of contamination or germs.

Unwanted, intrusive thoughts about harming oneself or others.

Taboo or aggressive thoughts that go against personal values or religious beliefs and symmetry, order, or exactness concerns.


Excessive hand washing or cleaning due to contamination fears.

Repeated checking of locks, appliances, or switches.

Ordering or arranging objects in a specific way.

Mental rituals, such as repeating words or phrases to neutralise obsessions.

Triggers for OCD can vary across individuals, and they can include a wide range of situations or thoughts. Some triggers may include: Daily life stresses, specific fears or phobias, situations related to personal values or religious beliefs, germs.

Types of compulsions in OCD can include:

Cleaning and washing compulsions.

Excessive hand washing or showering rituals.

Repeatedly sanitising objects or specific surfaces.

Management of OCD typically involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and self-help strategies. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), specifically Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), is considered the gold standard psychotherapy for OCD.

Medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be prescribed to help reduce symptoms. Self-help strategies, such as stress management, relaxation techniques, and support groups, may also be beneficial.

‘’It's important for anyone experiencing symptoms of OCD to reach out to a qualified mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan,’’ said Friedland.