Q:What can be done to help someone who has an overwhelming fear of contamination and spends hours a day washing their hands and taking showers?
A: Excessive fear of germs and time consuming washing rituals are symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Dis-
order (OCD). OCD is an anxiety disorder which can be mild to severe. Symptoms can begin in childhood
and be life long. Symptoms are usually worsened by stress which is why people can go for periods of time
with minor symptoms which under stress become full blown or shift to other symptoms. Other symptoms
of OCD include checking and rechecking to see if doors are locked, stoves and lights are turned off etc.
People with OCD are trapped in obsessive worry followed by extreme and seemingly bizarre rituals which
serve to temporarily dissipate the worrier’s anxiety. If the rituals are interrupted, often the whole cycle must
be repeated to the point where the person does nothing else. OCD can seriously affect job and school
performance, putting the person at serious risk of unemployment and underachievement. Relationships
also suffer since OCD can make people seem rigid, irritable, uncaring and self-centered. The best thing
to do if you or someone you know has these symptoms is fi nd a mental health professional specializing
in the treatment of this disorder. With a good diagnosis and better understanding of what this condition is
and what triggers it the healing can begin. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with or without anti-anxiety
medication is the place to start. Poor coping behaviors that have been learned can be unlearned and new,
more effective skills can be put in place. Medication is often necessary at the beginning of treatment if the
person has become incapacitated by their obsessions and rituals or if the patient wants symptom relief
while pursuing CBT. Medication provides more immediate relief while Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
supplies the lifelong tools for dealing with this disorder.