One Direction’s Niall Horan has revealed that he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. These are all the forms the condition can take – and most have nothing to do with tidiness
While public awareness about mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression continues to grow, there are still those disorders which are sorely understood by the vast majority of society, one of which is OCD.
Described by OCD UK as “a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts” Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is believed to affect around 1.2% of the population, but it is still often misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced it.
Thanks to phrases such as “I’m a bit OCD” or “stop being so OCD”, the myth that people with OCD solely focus on cleanliness and organisation continues to pervade. But underneath, OCD takes so many different forms, including a need to do things in a certain routine to avoid feeling anxiety and stress, as One Direction singer Niall Horan has previously explained.
“I have mild obsessive compulsive disorder, that’s what doctors call it. That is, I feel like I have to do things in a certain way,” the 24-year-old told German magazine Zeit Leo last week.
Niall explained that he has had the condition since childhood and it left him feeling isolated from his school classmates.
The singer explained that OCD still affects his live performances: “I have one fixed sequence. I always have to sing in the same order, move and so on. I’ll basically do everything immediately, otherwise I’ll get nervous quickly.”
Even though OCD affects around 1-2% of the population, the condition is still poorly understood and is often used as a byword for personality traits like tidiness or being uptight.
While anxieties relating to contamination are common, OCD also takes many other forms that have no relation to cleaning.
“Obsessions are unwanted intrusive thoughts, images or urges which cause anxiety, and the compulsions are the mental or physical rituals which someone with OCD performs in order to reduce their anxiety,” OCD Action spokesperson Olivia Bamber tells Stylist.co.uk.
“Intrusive thoughts can be about absolutely anything, but they typically latch onto your worst possible fears and things which you find completely abhorrent.”
Bamber gives the example that a mother with OCD might worry about accidentally harming her baby “because her child is the thing she loves the most”. As intrusive thoughts often involve unfounded fear of harming others, she adds, many sufferers are ashamed to speak up.
These are some of the many forms obsessive compulsive disorder can take.
Sexual intrusive thoughts
Experiencing unwanted sexual thoughts or images is one of the less spoken-about forms of OCD. These thoughts can be anything from fears that you are a paedophile to worrying that you’re actually a different sexuality than the one you identify as.
Some sufferers may even worry that they’ve done something terrible like sexually assault someone when they haven’t. All their intrusive thoughts are unwanted and they are at no risk of acting on them, however much they fear they might.
Relationship intrusive thoughts
OCD can leave some sufferers consumed with doubt about their relationship. This could mean obsessively worrying about them or their partner being unfaithful, or constantly analysing whether their feelings for their partner are real.
Sufferers who check obsessively may feel that they are trying to prevent damage to possessions or harm coming to others. For example, they might repeatedly check that their front door is locked or that the oven is switched off.
Checking can also apply to people - e.g. a sufferer might text a loved one to check no harm has come to them, or to ask for reassurance that they haven’t done anything to upset them.
Hoarding can relate to perceived prevention of harm (e.g. fear of a sharp object hurting refuse workers). It can also be attached to a fear of losing something that a sufferer might rely on later, or the person may have developed an emotional relationship with the objects they hoard.
Fear of harming a loved one
Sufferers who fear harming a loved one can become obsessed that they are a bad person because of their unwanted intrusive thoughts.
A common example is fear of stabbing a family member - this might cause the person to lock away kitchen knives to ‘prevent’ themselves doing this, even though there is no danger that they will.
These manifest as a hyper-awareness of your body and can include things like obsession with your breathing, a fixation on blinking or being unable to ignore the sight of your own nose while reading.
Fear of contamination
Contamination thoughts can involve a whole range of anxieties, including obsession that the sufferer might contract an illness like HIV or fears of a loved one becoming ill due to something being dirty. For those with contamination OCD, rituals can mean hours and hours of cleaning or other rituals.
Mental contamination is another lesser-known form of OCD. It means experiencing a feeling of internal dirtiness and can sometimes result from being treated badly or abused. The person might wash or shower compulsively to get rid of this ‘unclean’ feeling.
Magical thinking intrusive thoughts
Some sufferers experience fears that their thoughts can come true. For example, they might believe that imagining a house fire makes it more likely to happen, or that going to a funeral will lead to death.
Their rituals might not make sense to other people and could, for example, be something like counting to ten ‘just right’ to avoid harm coming to someone else.