Obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) has been studied with increased interest, funding and approaches over the past few decades. This highly contested condition may have its own, universally recognized characteristics, but studies have also uncovered certain localized aspects of this disorder. As a result, OCD statistics around the world can appear quite different, under various cultures or geographic locations. Read on to find out more on the subject.
Originally stemming from the anxiety disorders chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual (DSM), these days the mental health field is split over the source of OCD, with traditionalists continuing to categorize it as an anxiety-based condition, and more pioneering researchers finding it to be distress-based. With a genetic base for OCD already empirically proven, the possible sources of OCD add complexity to our overarching understanding of this condition.
● Additional areas of contention include the following:
Recognized types of OCD, with relationship OCD and religiosity being two recent additions.
● Established OCD treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, vs. cutting edge OCD treatments, such as psychedelic mushrooms.
● Comparing OCD with the more ingrained obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which typically applies to patients who wish to meet the high and rigid standards they put upon themselves and those around them.
Despite all of the above disputes and conflicting narratives, the one thing experts do seem to agree on is that OCD should fundamentally be defined by intrusive thoughts and repetitive responses—in other words, by the obsessions and compulsions it causes. Indeed, OCD is primarily shaped by the nagging, severely troubling and intrusive thought content it creates, together with the repetitive, ritualistic responses it induces, in an effort to shake the thoughts it had originated.
Rather than helping, though, OCD-derived responses (be they repeated actions or thoughts) end up exacerbating the internal, adverse sensation they were meant to dissipate, as the patient begins feeling compelled to repeat them, otherwise some unwanted event will take place.
A good example of the OCD process would be the stressful image of a loved one experiencing a horrific car accident. Unable to escape their own thoughts, an individual contending with this form of OCD (called catastrophizing) will resort to some sort of repetitive action, such as lightly tapping their right shoulder, as a protective ritual meant to prevent such an event from happening. While at first this novel action helps calm them down, their tapping ritual quickly loses this ability, forming a loop of stressful thoughts and actions that must be acted out perfectly, otherwise an awful tragedy will take place.
Depending on their level of insight, someone assailed by Such OCD-related fears does not necessarily believe them to be plausible. What drives the individual to keep doing them is not that such an accident seems likely, but that they could never truly, 100% be sure that their OCD rituals do not protect their loved one. It is this speck of doubt that feeds their OCD, exhausting and causing them a great deal of anguish in the process.
Worldwide statistical data finds that 1.1%-1.8% of individuals contend with OCD. The World Health Organization (WHO) had previously ranked OCD as the tenth most debilitating illness for the general population, as its symptoms can lead to extreme anxiety, distress, frustration, self-criticism, and impairment in one or more central social spheres. OCD is currently listed by the WHO among other anxiety-based disorders, which together rank as the sixth leading cause of world disability, while on its own, OCD is ranked among the top 20 causes. It is also considered the fifth most debilitating disability specifically for women aged 15-44.
The WHO’s International Classification of Diseases manual (ICD) finds that women and men are affected by OCD at equal rates. Cleaning, taboo thinking about a socially or religiously unacceptable scenario, symmetry, hoarding, and catastrophizing all appear at similar rates across the globe.
Within the US, 1.2% of the adult population (or two-to-three million adults) is thought to face this condition, in addition to 500,000 US children. The APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which focuses on the US population, finds that women are affected by OCD at a slightly higher rate than men.
A western power aiming to better understand its population’s mental health needs, the relatively large number of studies on OCD in the UK has produced a rather broad statistical spectrum, citing anywhere between 750,000 and two million individuals facing this condition. Nevertheless, OCD is considered the fourth most common mental health disorder in the UK, after depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and social phobia. Men in the UK have typically been found to begin exhibiting symptoms in early adolescence, while women usually do so in their early twenties.
Industrial and population juggernaut China reports a higher percentage of OCD compared to the global average, with 1.63% of the population facing the disorder. Additional studies, on mainland China, found a 0.9% current prevalence for OCD, with a lifetime prevalence of 3.17%. Gender differences in China have been found to be much more pronounced, with a 1.72% current prevalence and an 8.71% lifetime prevalence among females, compared to a 1.11% current prevalence and a 3.55% lifetime prevalence among males. Individuals living in urban parts of China were found to have a higher chance of developing OCD than those in rural parts of the country (1.41% vs. 0.69%, respectively).
Another population giant, India offers an unfortunate paucity of studies on OCD. The few that do exist report a lifetime prevalence of 0.6%, and current prevalence of 3.3%. The most common obsessive themes in India have been found to be taboo thoughts, and the most common compulsive responses have been found to be mental rituals.