Media OCD Facts Page

information about OCD

Please take a moment to read our media OCD briefing facts page offers an overview about what OCD is with known statistics and facts and may answer many of your questions. The media OCD facts page is updated frequently when new research evidence becomes available.


What is OCD?

Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious anxiety-related mental health problem where a person experiences frequent intrusive, repetitive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts (the obsessive part of OCD) which leads to an increase in anxiety and often followed by repetitive physical or mental behaviours, impulses or urges (the compulsive part of OCD) conducted in a vain attempt to relieve themselves of the perceived fear and obsessive thoughts. The OCD Cycle illustration offers a visual way to think of OCD.

Common obsessions include fears around contamination, causing harm to one's self or others, inappropriate sexual thoughts, hypochondria and 'unlucky' numbers. Common compulsions include washing to rid the contamination or germs, checking repeatedly and seeking reassurance from loved ones.

Most sufferers are actually aware that their fears and behaviour are irrational but feel unable to control them due to the overwhelming anxiety and perceived fear of harm coming to loved ones.

Who is affected by OCD?

The incidence of OCD can be traced historically, cross-culturally and across a broad social spectrum and does not appear to restrict itself to any specific sex or group of individuals. According to some studies, OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder after
depression, alcohol and substance misuse, and social phobia an thought to affect as many as 12 in every 1000 people (1.2% of the population) from young children to adults. In fact, it can be so debilitating and disabling that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has actually ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life.

OCD affects males as frequently as it does females, and on average begins to affect people in late adolescence for men and early twenties for women. However, it used to take individuals 10-15 years or even longer to seek professional help.

Is OCD becoming more common?

No, despite the widespread use of the term OCD these days, evidence suggests that OCD is no more common than previously accounted for, in fact in recent years the estimates were changed from 2-3% down to 1.2% here in the UK (1.6% in the US).

What is becoming more common is general awareness about OCD, although that is not always positive. Not all references to OCD are factually correct, and often can trivialize the utter devastation that the illness can cause for those that suffer.

What are the treatments for OCD?

The evidence shows that the treatment found to be the most effective in successfully treating OCD are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), with or without medications from the Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor Medications (SSRIs) group of medications.

In practice many OCD sufferers find they are only offered medication treatment due to waiting times for CBT anything from 6 months to 1 year.

In 2007, Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced a £173 million programme (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies - IAPT) to improve access to talking therapies such as CBT for people suffering from anxiety disorders like OCD. The new plan aims to reduce that wait to just a fortnight, in line with improvements in outpatient waiting times in other parts of the NHS.

How much does OCD cost?

OCD is ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the top 10 of the most disabling illnesses by lost income and decreased quality of life. Mental illness accounts for over a third of the burden of illness in Britain. For example, some 40% of all disability (physical and mental) is due to mental illness.

Whilst depression and anxiety illnesses like OCD account for a third of all disability, they attract only about 2% of NHS expenditure.

Most NHS expenditure on mental health goes on people who suffer from schizophrenia or manic depression, which are only 1% of the population and they desperately need better care. But so do the 16% of the population who suffer from depression and chronic anxiety disorders like OCD. Their under-treatment exerts a huge cost in terms of distress - and of economic loss.

By comparing the employment rates of sufferers with those of the rest of the population. If we also allow for increased absenteeism, the total loss of output due to depression and chronic anxiety is some £12 billion a year – 1% of our total national income. Of this the cost to the taxpayer is some £7 billion – including incapacity benefits and lost tax receipts.

A survey of an OCD consumer advocacy group estimated that, on average, a person with OCD loses fully 3 years of wages over their lifetime. If an OCD sufferer incurs losses of £483.04 for every week they are absent (income data services, 2004), this would amount to a total of £75,354 due to unemployment over this 3-year period, not including lost opportunities for career advancement and the cost to families and carers over their respective working lifetimes.

This highlights the importance of delivering psychological interventions at the earliest signs of the onset of symptoms.

Where can people go for more support?

Call OCD-UK on 03332 127 890 or visit the website OCD-UK facilitate a safe environment for people affected by OCD to communicate with each other and provide mutual understanding and support.

About OCD-UK

OCD-UK is the leading national charity and largest UK charity dedicated to OCD that works independently with and for children and adults with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Uniquely it was founded in 2004 by and is still run by trustees, all of whom have direct experience of suffering from the illness.


Sources: (OCD-UK, NICE Guidelines for OCD, A New Deal for Depression and Anxiety Disorders Report (June 2006) - London School Economics)

Copyright © 2004-2017 OCD-UK.
Charity Registration Number: 1103210
OCD-UK, Marble Hall (Office 5), 80 Nightingale Road, Derby DE24 8BF

OCD-UK is a non-profit making charity and not associated with any other organisation. Medical information is provided for education/information purposes only, you should obtain further advice from your doctor. Any links to external websites have been carefully selected, however we are not responsible for the content of these third party websites.