How OCD Can Derail College Life

By Patrick McGrath, PhD
3 min read
how ocd can derail a college students life

The following is a transcript of a video. The text below has been lightly edited for clarity.

OCD can have a big impact on the life of college students. Let me tell you about some examples of what I’ve personally seen in treatment of individuals who were at college or university.

One person was kicked out of his dormitory because he had a form of OCD called religious scrupulosity. He had a fear that he might do something morally or ethically wrong, and he could go to hell. He had been to a campus religious group early in the day, and when he came back to his dorm room, he decided that he wanted to be saved. So he did what he needed to do: He uttered from his lips, “Jesus my Lord and Savior.”

And then [he] doubted if God had heard him, so he said it a little bit louder. And then, louder again, and [he] kept doubting if he had done it correctly, to the point that he was in the hall screaming it at the top of his lungs, and campus security was called and took him to the hospital because they feared that he was going psychotic. 

I’ve also seen individuals who can’t leave their dorm room because the hall of the dorm is just too overwhelming and too dirty. There’s too many people out there. There’s too many chances to get contaminated or to contaminate someone. So, they skip all of their classes, and they don’t leave their dorm room, and that has led them to fail out of college. 

Other individuals who have been afraid to even walk across campus or take the bus on campus, depending on the size of the campus, because they fear, “What if I were to harm someone while doing that?” One woman was afraid that she had stabbed someone on the bus, right before one of the sessions she had with me. Even though she didn’t have a knife with her,  she feared, “What if I did it, and what if I threw the knife away, and now someone’s been stabbed and I, I got away with it, and they’re harmed, and it’s my fault and, and I’ve ruined their college career and maybe someday there’ll be a video that will come up, and it will find me and show me that I did [it]?” 

OCD can cause roommates to have a very significant difficult time living with each other. If one roommate is more stereotypical of what some people might think of as OCD, being very clean and orderly and the other roommate is not, that can cause a lot of arguments or fights between them.

We also know that there are people with OCD who will suffer silently. They may look on the surface as if they’re functioning well, but they’re not sleeping. They’re having trouble getting their work done. There are people who won’t even get work done because their work has to be done perfectly. If they don’t do it perfectly they can’t turn it in. They may get to a point where they’re failing out of their classes for not having turned in any assignments, though they had every intention to do so they just couldn’t bring themselves to finally turn it in because it wasn’t quite right yet, it wasn’t just right, or it wasn’t good enough or even perfect enough for them to do, which could cause them to fail out of school totally. 

Though many of our college students are young, between 17 and 23 years old, OCD can have [a] significant impact on their lives, and can lead them to have a very difficult experience at college, living in a dorm, or even as a commuter student as well. 

If you see students who are suffering like this, please reach out to us at NOCD. A free 15-minute phone call could help someone in need. Our care team will explain the benefits of our evidence based ERP therapy and get you connected with an ERP specialist. 

Patrick McGrath, PhD
WRITTEN BYPatrick McGrath, PhD