As teens journey through adolescence, a certain amount of anxiety surrounding all of the changes and increased responsibilities they face is normal. For some teens, these anxious feelings and thoughts are perennial and are the result of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mental health disorder.

This mental health condition is not the same as being a perfectionist or having anxiety-decreasing rituals, so it can help to learn the signs and symptoms to look for if you worry your child may be suffering from OCD.

Symptoms and signs to look for in teens with OCD and how to help

Within OCD, there are two parts to the condition that affects those afflicted in different ways. Obsessions represent the negative, persistent, and intrusive thoughts that those with OCD experience. Usually, they are able to recognize that these thoughts are irrational and unhelpful, but they are unable to control them.

The other half of OCD, compulsions, are repeated behaviors that a person performs in order to decrease their anxiety caused by the obsession. In order to be diagnosed as OCD, the obsessions and compulsions must severely interfere with the person’s ability to function in daily life.

Someone with OCD will experience obsessions or compulsions or both, and here are some signs to look for that could indicate your child needs to seek a mental health professional.

Obsessions

1. Contamination – teens with OCD will often have obsessive thoughts about being in contact with germs or becoming contaminated. This can cause fear of touching other people, using door handles, or interacting in public spaces.

2. Doubts – If you teen is constantly questioning whether or not they have completed certain activities such as locking the door or turning off an appliance, it could be a sign of OCD. These anxious thoughts will lead them to believe something terrible will happen.

3. Order – Constant thoughts about everything needing to be in the proper place and order can also be a sign of OCD. These thoughts can intensify if a specific routine is not followed everyday.

Compulsions

1. Washing – Teens with OCD will often perform repeated and excessive cleaning of themselves and objects around them in order to combat the obsessive contamination thoughts they experience.

2. Checking – This compulsion is the response to the doubting obsession, and causes teens to check multiple times to make sure they have completed a task, such as locking the door or turning off the oven.

3. Ordering – If your teen is having obsessive thoughts about ordering, they will likely also repeatedly place items in a particular order or symmetrical pattern to feel a sense of control.

4. Counting – In an attempt to decrease anxiety, those with OCD will feel compelled to count items such as ceiling tiles or carpet squares. This could also cause them to do activities a certain number of times, such as making sure they lock the door 8 times.

If your child is struggling with OCD, there are many steps you can take to help him cope. Be open with your teen and let him know you want to talk about what he is experiencing and how you can best help him. Recognize the impact of the stigma that surrounds teen mental health and let your child know it’s okay to get help in order to feel better. 

Once your teen is ready to get help, consider joining a teen OCD support group, so he can share his experience and struggles with others who are dealing with similar issues. If managing your teen’s OCD on your own has become too challenging, programs like BlueFire can help.

BlueFire can help your teen manage OCD

BlueFire is a leading therapeutic wilderness program that combines the best of individualized clinical work, family therapy, adventure activities, and equine therapy to help adolescents make lasting changes. We specialize in treating teens and young adults that are struggling with emotional, social, and behavioral challenges. For more information, please call (208) 502-2326.

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