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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Do I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

    I always thought I was a perfectionist because before leaving the house, I always have to check that all the lights are turned off, the stove is off and none of the sinks are running. My children think this is unusual and that I should speak to someone about it. Do I have obsessive compulsive disorder? How is it diagnosed?
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  • 1


    Dr Paul McQueen

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Checking light switches, stoves and taps can be perfectly normal behaviour, even if not everyone would do it - but if it is excessive and interferes with your life or relationships, such checking might be a symptom of OCD.

    For this to be properly diagnosed you would need to see a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist who can conduct a comprehensive interview and properly make, or rule out, such a diagnosis. Other health professionals, including your GP, may be able to make a fair assessment of whether such a diagnosis would be likely. However, OCD is often misdiagnosed, so confirmation from a psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in assessing and treating OCD would be advisable. Seeing a GP can be a good first step, though, because a GP can assist in making a referral if this is needed.

    Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by intrusive thoughts, images or urges that cause distress, and actions taken to eliminate that distress.  Whether your checking would be diagnosed as OCD depends on a number of factors, such as:

    • whether the checking is an unobtrusive routine (normal behaviour), or a response to excessive worry about something that might happen if not checked that is intended to reduce distress or prevent a feared outcome;
    • whether the worry and checking together interfere significantly your life or relationships;
    • whether you yourself consider the checking to be unreasonable;
    • whether there is another underlying cause for the checking behaviour.
    Obsessive compulsive disorder is quite treatable, but it is best to receive treatment from professionals who specialise in OCD treatment.

    All in all, if it doesn't really bother you and you children think little more about in than that it is “unusual”, it may not be a problem at all. But if it is causing problems, it could become an increasing problem over time without treatment.

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