OCD is an extremely challenging disorder, and opinions on how partners, friends and relatives can help sufferers may vary. Some suggest to never talk about the disorder or establish OCD-free zones, such as being prohibited to discuss the disorder during dinner time. However, in our experience these tactics aren’t always effective as people afflicted with OCD can have no breaks unless they sleep. The only thing they can do is to force themselves to seem normal for a short period of time for the sake of their loved ones; however, even if they do seem normal for a short while, their inner suffering is enormous. Obviously, this does very little to help the problem.
Another important point is not to get distracted by the Internet. With a little research, you may find “natural” OCD fixes by means of diet modification and meditation. Admittedly, there are many aspects of this disorder that aren’t completely understood by modern medicine, but passing on tried-and-true treatments it has to offer in favor of a questionable diet fix could be a big mistake. This, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try diets — by all means have your loved one try it — but don’t skip appointments with a psychiatrist and don’t allow them to quit taking their medication without doctor’s approval. Remember: People with OCD live with tremendous emotional stress and are 10 times more likely to commit suicide, according to this study. Should anything go wrong with the “natural approach”, your loved one may be exposed to unnecessary risk.
Make sure the person afflicted with OCD is getting help from someone who is properly qualified to treat the disorder. Although primary care physicians may know the disorder very well, it is better to work with someone who specializes in that, such as
- or another mental health professional.
“You really want to make sure that this person has an adequate experience because treatment and evaluation requires a lot of training,” says Dr. Wayne K. Goodman.
A lot of times people simply assume that a certain behavior, such as getting angry and anxious when the house is messy, is OCD, but in reality it may not be the case. Getting a proper diagnosis is the first step to a better mental health.
Other than making sure that your loved one doesn’t skip appointments with his or her doctor and takes the medication, you can help them by providing them tools to challenge their intrusive thoughts. What tools you can use will depend on specifics of your particular situation, but usually it is unbiased information, something that is proven and is hard to argue with.
In the case of fearing germs, for example, it can be useful to remind your loved one that other people don’t nearly work as hard on sterilizing things and live just fine. Moreover, living in a sterile environment can lead to a weaker immunity (source), leading to more health problems, not less.
If your loved one keeps replaying some unpleasant memories, trying to remember long-forgotten details about something, let them know about phenomenon of false memories and try to get them read works of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.
Simply reading about exposure therapy and results it brought to other OCD sufferers may help your love one feel better even before they undergo the therapy themselves, which is not always an option.
One of the most important things you can do is not making their OCD worse by participating in their “rituals” that are meant to prevent some imaginary disaster. Don’t clean, don’t check, don’t count and don’t try to ease their mind by reassuring them. This may be the hardest thing to do, but it is also the most important thing to do. The more you reassure them by cleaning, checking, counting, ruminating, you name it, the sicker they become.
Finally, don’t forget yourself. Living with someone with OCD can be very exhausting and can affect your own mental health and well-being. It is particularly hard if the person afflicted with OCD is your life partner or someone you would normally lean on during hard times. Unfortunately, OCD is so consuming that people afflicted with it have little energy for anything else and cannot support you and help you when you go through challenges related to their illness or something completely different. Basically, you are alone with an enormous weight on your shoulders. Investigate ways you could make yourself feel better; perhaps you need to meet your friends and family more, work out more or find a counselor who can listen to you and advise you on how to deal with the situation. Remember: It won’t help if you become ill too, and helping yourself in order to be able to help your loved one should be a priority.
- Make sure the person with OCD is getting help from someone who specializes in this disorder and has a lot of experience. Working with primary care physician is probably not a good idea.
- Help them get professional help as quick as possible — the sooner OCD is identified and treated, the better.
- Allow them to try natural approaches but make sure they don’t skip appointments with their doctor and take their medication.
- Help them challenge their intrusive thoughts by educating them (see the examples above).
- Let them read about exposure therapy and other people’s success stories who underwent the therapy.
- Never participate in their rituals to avoid making them even more ill.
- Take care of your own mental and physical well-being.