Teens and OCD

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Oct 01, 2012

by Janet Singer

“Normal” teen behavior might be anything but

I think we can all agree that once a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder is made, it is important to get the right help as soon as possible. A therapist who specializes in treating the disorder using Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy is the way to go. The path to follow is clear.

But what is not always clear is whether or not you or a loved one even has OCD. In particular, if you are the parent of a teenager, it may be hard to distinguish “normal teen behavior” (yes, I realize that’s a bit of an oxymoron) from something you should be concerned about. How do we know when peculiar teen behavior might actually be OCD?

Before we discuss this further, I must confess that I had no idea my son Dan had OCD until, after diagnosing himself with the help of the Internet at the age of seventeen, he told me. Turns out he’d been suffering for “a while.” My husband and I had no clue. So I am in no way an expert, and am, in fact, a good example of someone who dismissed some odd behaviors as those of a “quirky teen.” Who knew that a refusal to pick out his own clothes, constant apologizing for things most people wouldn’t apologize for (a type of reassurance seeking), and avoiding previously enjoyable activities could all be signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder? Certainly not me.

Symptoms of OCD

While symptoms of OCD are not always straightforward, some are more easily recognized than others. Overt compulsions such as excessive hand-washing, checking, and tapping are obvious clues that something is wrong. Those suffering from mental compulsions may have an easier time hiding their OCD. How was I supposed to know that Dan’s daydreaming or bouts of “spaciness” were actually caused by him having to review his day over and over in his head?

The truth is, my intuition (which I ignored) kept telling me that we were dealing with something more than normal teen behavior. While I didn’t suspect OCD, I had a feeling that something was wrong. One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is how important it is for us, as parents, to trust our intuition. Nobody is as tuned into our children as we are, and if you feel there is reason for concern, even if you’re not quite sure what those concerns are, it is time to talk with your teen.

OCD and communication

Which brings us to my next point: I believe communication is essential if you are worried about your son or daughter. I know that conversations with teens are often difficult, but you might find that your child is relieved that you’ve brought up the subject. Try talking to him or her during a calm time, be nonjudgmental and supportive, and just express your concerns. Hear what he or she has to say, and from this dialogue you can figure out the next step. If your son or daughter denies there is a problem, but you are not convinced, insist he or she (or the whole family) talk with a therapist. Also, tell him or her about the Beyond OCD web site, including the OCD Self-Screening Test. At the very least, your teen will realize he or she is not alone.

I know from personal experience that reading a list of symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder is a lot simpler than seeing it in your own child. If you suspect that it’s possible your teen may be suffering from OCD, let him or her know how important it is to be evaluated, and if necessary, begin treatment. Meeting with a professional will either put everyone’s minds at ease, or uncover a disorder that is absolutely treatable. Either way you win.

Beyond OCD is a worldwide advocate of raising awareness of obsessive-compulsive disorder and in helping sufferers – and their families and friends – get the help they need. There’s a whole section on the website Just for Teens that can help teenagers, their parents, educators, and mental health professionals begin the healing process from the ravages of OCD.

Janet Singer, an advocate for OCD awareness, is published regularly on various mental health web sites. She explores all topics related to OCD and shares what helped and what hurt in her son Dan’s recovery from this devastating disorder.  While there were many lessons learned along the way, Janet feels the most powerful one of all is that there is always hope. She is committed to getting the word out that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. You can read more about Dan’s story and follow her personal blog at: http://www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com/. Janet uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy.


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