Over the past few decades, a number of researchers have tried to pinpoint the prevalence of OCD. Figures have varied, depending upon a number of factors, including the populations studied (community sample vs. clinical sample, adult vs. children) and the assessment used to diagnose OCD. But according to the most recent, large-scale community study of mental health in adults across the United States:
- 1.2 % of the adults met full criteria for OCD in the 12 months prior to the study, and
- 2.3% met the criteria for a diagnosis of OCD at some point in their lives – that’s over 5 million Americans, or approximately 1 in 40 adults.
Interestingly, the results of this study also indicated that more than one quarter of the adults experienced obsessions or compulsions at some time in their lives. In other words, more than a fourth of the adults – over 60 million people – experienced OCD symptoms even though they didn’t meet the formal criteria for a diagnosis of OCD. This raises the possibility that the public health burden of OCD in the United States may be even greater than that suggested by the 1.2% and 2.3% figures above.
But OCD isn’t limited to the United States; OCD affects literally millions of people around the world. In fact, the World Health Organization has ranked OCD as one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability, worldwide, for individuals between 15 and 44 years of age.
These estimates lead many to wonder how OCD could have grown from what was once considered a rare condition just a few decades ago to one of such widespread proportion today. In the past, many OCD sufferers did not seek treatment, so the reported number of cases didn’t reflect the actual number. And many people with the disorder have hidden the truth from everyone but their closest family members, for fear of exposure, gossip and shame. In some cases, individuals with OCD have hidden their symptoms from everyone and suffered in silence.
Thanks to intensive efforts at educating the public, OCD has gained far more recognition than it once had. But our experience leads us to conclude that many people with OCD as well as their friends and families still suffer in silence. Research also suggests a gap between those who need appropriate treatment for OCD and those who receive it. The previously mentioned study of mental health in American adults indicated that severe cases of OCD are much more likely than moderate cases to come to the attention of mental health professionals. Unfortunately, only a minority of severe cases receive treatment specifically for OCD.
This study further indicated that among mental health disorders, OCD has the third highest proportion of seriously disabling cases, surpassed only by bipolar disorder and drug dependence. In addition, many people with moderate OCD have impairments as severe as those found in severe cases of other mental disorders.
Fortunately, effective treatment is available today, and people with OCD can get relief. That’s good news not only for millions of people with OCD, but also for the millions of others whose lives are affected by OCD when a family member, spouse, friend or student has the disorder.
The first and most important step in getting appropriate treatment for yourself or someone else is becoming knowledgeable about OCD. Therefore, it’s important to learn to recognize the behaviors associated with OCD. This web site contains a wealth of information designed to help you better understand what OCD is and how it’s treated. If you’re seeking help for yourself or someone you care for, the information on this web site will also guide you through the process of locating a physician or mental health expert who is trained to treat OCD. Not all clinicians are.