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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

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    Offers information and education advice about protecting mental health, mutual support and advocacy services. View Profile

    The exact causes of OCD are not fully understood. There are, however, a number of possible theories:

    • Related to genetics
    • A result of the effects of interaction between behaviour and the environment (feelings of guilt and shame are often associated with OCD)
    • Chemical changes in the brain, usually related to the brain chemical serotonin
    • Co-existing condition such as depression or generalised anxiety disorder

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    Dr Toni Metelerkamp

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Toni works with adults and couples, and specialises in diagnosing and treating anxiety (panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance and gambling, addictions, suicide and … View Profile

    Why obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety based disorder, develops isn't fully understood. Some theories include both our biology and our environment.
    Biologyo There is some indication that OCD may be caused by changes in brain chemistry or brain functions. It seems that Serotonin is involved since SRIs, which increases the levels of available Serotonin, are effective in dampening symptoms o Included in this theory is the possibility that OCD has a genetic component, but the specific genes involved have not yet been identified. For example, in some cases OCD is associated with Tourette’s Disorder, which does appear to have strong heritability. Twin studies also provide strong support for the inheritability of OCD
    Environmento Sometimes OCD begins with a response to an identifiable stressor. For example, compulsions to wash hands may follow contact with foul substances. Sometimes it can be difficult to recall the initial incident, especially if the behaviour has been a long standing patterno Behaviours that you may have seen modelled or behaviours established your self seem to contribute to the development of OCD o Stress appears to worsen OCD symptoms but it does not seem that stress itself causes OCD
    However OCD is caused, it can leave individuals feeling ashamed and frustrated. If you experience frequent and uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours see your doctor or contact a psychologist to help change this pattern. 

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    Penny Lewis

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    I am a Clinical Psychologist with more than 25 years experience working with adults with a broad range of backgrounds dealing with a wide variety … View Profile

    As with the other answers, OCD is best conceptualised as a neurobehavioural disorder, likely to have various biological and environmental precipitants and underpinnings. While many sufferers of OCD report a gradual onset and cannot identify a trigger, a large proportion of clients report acute onset following a significant life event. For example, some report the onset or worsening of symptoms coincided with pregnancy or the post-partum period. Obsessions in post-partum OCD tended to involve fears of harm to the infant with associated avoidance of obsessional stimuli (e.g. knives) rather than overt rituals.

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