Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the most well-known mental health conditions, yet it’s still so misunderstood. Many people don’t take the time to educate themselves its intricacies, and they settle on stereotypes or media depictions as the truth. Being a woman with OCD is doubly frustrating because of how society mistreats females with mental health conditions and how often the medical system fails at diagnosing and treating us.
The miseducation doesn’t have to persist, though — in this technological era, it’s easier than ever to get insight on mental health issues. The less confusion around OCD in women, the better. If you think you or someone you know may have it — or if you’re curious about its definition — read on for more information.
Like anyone else with OCD, women suffering from obsessive thoughts may partake in compulsions, or regular rituals, to ease the anxiety these ideas produce. Many people only think of handwashing or hygiene when it comes to these impulses, but others exist. Some repeatedly check their locks or stove, rearrange objects in a specific order or perform tasks multiple times. For example, someone with OCD may feel the need to unscrew and re-screw a bottle cap seven times in a row before they can drink from it.
Anxiety is a common mental health concern for women, and it expresses itself in ways different from men. Women are more likely to direct their emotions inward, which can create comorbidity with eating disorders or other forms of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder is often diagnosed alongside OCD, especially in high-achieving individuals like athletes and managers. The need to feel like you’re in control of one area of your life can breed harmful behaviors somewhere else.
Purely obsessional OCD is a form of the condition that lacks observable rituals. Although outward behaviors constitute a significant portion of OCD, not everyone’s diagnosis is the same. Women with pure OCD deal with their obsessions in the same place they originate — their minds. They may recite phrases and numbers within their heads to ease tension. Others go out of their way to avoid triggers or seek reassurance from outside parties.
This subtype of OCD is especially challenging to deal with and explain to others because people don’t often believe what they can’t see.
Pregnancy can be an emotional and strenuous time — and some women walk away from it with new disorders they didn’t have before. The postpartum period not only puts you at risk for depression, but the drop in serotonin can also trigger the onset of OCD. Symptoms usually arise six weeks after birth, but in some cases, they appear during pregnancy. If you already have this condition, the effects of childbirth can worsen it or bring it back to the surface.
Postpartum OCD differs from other types in that obsessions revolve around the new baby. Many women think of hurting their baby, or they may worry excessively about their child contracting germs or illness.
Most people keep the same behaviors throughout their lifetime, but some cycle through numerous ones. This switching isn’t frequent — it happens every few months or years. The disorder itself doesn’t go away, but the compulsions that treat the intrusive thoughts change. You may have a habit of touching your doorknob at least 10 times before locking the door. This urge can eventually dissipate and give way to another where you have to wipe your feet on the doormat six times before leaving the house.
New rituals don’t have to be directly related to old ones — they merely exist for the sake of reducing anxiety.
OCD in women is often comorbid with eating disorders. They are similar in their obsessive thought patterns and ritualistic behaviors. You may experience anxieties about overeating or gaining weight. Common ways to ease these anxious thoughts include weighing yourself, consuming food in a particular order or constantly checking your body.
Though OCD can overlap with or exist separately from an eating disorder, there’s a notable difference between the two conditions. Those with OCD recognize the irrationality of it and perceive it as an entity separate from themselves, while women with food disorders view the thoughts and behaviors in alignment with their identities. This merging can make the condition difficult to treat, especially when OCD overlaps, but effective methods usually win.
OCD in women frequently appears with impulse control disorders. These conditions manifest in urges to harm yourself or others through acts like doing drugs, gambling or stealing. Women generally experience less aggressive complications than men, such as stealing and trichotillomania — which involves pulling your hair out. It’s not clear how impulse control disorders come about, but there may be a connection with the frontal lobe, which controls decision-making.
The average age for diagnosis is 19, which leads right into the phenomenon of developing anxiety in your 20s. Early adulthood is a stressful time for many, and sometimes issues you’ve never considered before reveal themselves. However, there’s a trend of women having a later onset for OCD than men, though this still includes the early 20s age range.
There is yet to be a definitive reason for why OCD manifests later for women, but you can take a few guesses. One may be that women generally have a difficult time receiving accurate diagnoses because many physicians see women’s health problems as less severe. Sometimes females can bounce between doctors for years before finding the right one for answers and treatments.
The topic of OCD in women doesn’t have to be a modern mystery, and you don’t have to deal with it alone. It can be scary at first, but treatment exists to benefit you and make each day a little easier to take on. Mental wellness is a lifelong process, but it’s rewarding all the same.