Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health disorder that affects millions of people in the United States alone. OCD is marked by a cycle of obsessions (distressing repeated thoughts, urges, sensations, or images) and compulsions (mental and/or physical behaviors that are done in an attempt to reduce the resulting distress or prevent an unwanted outcome). Quickly, these obsessions and compulsions can grow stronger and stronger, becoming an overwhelming force in your life.
OCD is also commonly misunderstood, which is why learning accurate facts about it can be helpful in demystifying the condition and removing some of the shame associated with the disorder. Here are 15 statistics about OCD that will help you learn more about the disorder, whether it affects you or a loved one. Plus we’ll cover how you can get the help you need—because there is good and effective treatment out there.
OCD school is in session.
1. OCD affects 1 in 40 adults in the United States
Over the past year, 1.2% of US adults had OCD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). However, over the course of one’s lifetime, 2.3%–or about 1 in 40–of U.S. adults have OCD. The presence of OCD is about far more than needing to clean your house, lock your doors, or arrange something just right–as commonly portrayed in the media. Rather, it’s a life-altering disorder that can have severe consequences on your ability to live your life on our own terms.
2. Nearly 3 times as many females have OCD as males
As the NIMH points out, 1.8% of females had OCD over the last year compared to 0.5% of males. Males are more likely to be diagnosed in childhood, but females are then more likely to develop the disorder after puberty and into adulthood, according to Current Psychiatry Reports.
3. Half of adults with OCD report “serious impairment”
Not everyone’s OCD impacts them in the same way. Symptoms can be considered mild, moderate, or serious. And 50% of adults experience serious impairment, 35% moderate, and 15% mild, per the NIMH. Someone with serious OCD may find that their disorder puts their job in jeopardy, harms their relationships with others, or limits their ability to leave their home, among other consequences.
4. The average age for an OCD diagnosis is age 19
Although OCD can be diagnosed in adults over age 35, most people are diagnosed by age 19, says the NIMH. A few examples of symptoms of OCD in kids include an obsession with germs, intrusive thoughts about harming themselves or others, excessive counting, an extreme attention to detail, asking the same questions, and repeatedly saying the same numbers, words, or sounds, according to Cedars Sinai. Once properly diagnosed, people often look back at their earlier years and recognize how OCD was at play in their life.
5. It can take 14 to 17 years for an adult to be diagnosed with OCD
OCD can frequently be missed by doctors or even other mental health professionals, says Patrick McGrath, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer at NOCD. “There’s certainly more OCD in the world than doctors or insurance companies acknowledge,” he says. Unfortunately, doctors and even therapists may not have the training to adequately diagnose OCD or pick up on the symptoms to send you to someone who can provide an accurate diagnosis. Shame and embarrassment surrounding symptoms may also prevent you from reaching out.
These are just a couple reasons why it can take more than a decade for an adult to finally receive a diagnosis, according to the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). That’s almost a decade and a half of trying to deal with often debilitating symptoms on your own—but it doesn’t have to be that way.
6. People with OCD spend at least 1 hour day on their obsessions and compulsions
One hour is the benchmark that has been set for an OCD diagnosis—generally speaking, at least. People with the mental health disorder tend to spend more than that amount of time on triggers and compulsions related to OCD. So if you simply check that you locked your door when you leave your house, that’s probably not OCD, says Dr. McGrath. If you have to spend a lot of time repeatedly locking your doors “just right” before you can leave the house—and you arrive late at work or social functions, then that might be OCD. We all have these types of behaviors, but OCD “clinically and significantly interferes in your life,” he says.
7. Genes account for about 50% of OCD
OCD tends to run in families, and it’s believed that somewhere from 45 to 65% of OCD is due to genetic factors. The Cleveland Clinic notes that your risk of developing OCD is highest if you have a biological parent or sibling who has the disorder, and that risk is even higher if they developed it at a young age. That said, having someone in the family with OCD doesn’t mean you will have it, too, or that your child will. There are both genetic and environmental factors that play a role in OCD—you may have a certain predisposition, but a combination of factors is usually required in order for OCD to develop.There is never one single reason someone develops OCD.
8. Contamination OCD affects up to 46% of patients
There are many different subtypes of OCD: checking, counting, false memory, harm, hoarding, and many more. One of the most prevalent is contamination OCD, research says, and it exists in nearly half of people with OCD. With contamination OCD, you may have a fear of contracting or spreading germs, which triggers compulsions to excessively wash or clean, and can make you avoid public situations out of anxiety that you will pick up or spread something to others. There’s even a sub-subtype known as “emotional contamination” or “mental contamination” that has nothing to do with germs and illness.
9. 9 in 10 people with OCD also have another psychiatric disorder
As if the distress of OCD weren’t enough, data indicates that over the course of a lifetime, 90% of patients also have another mental health disorder—most commonly anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicidal behavior. This speaks to how important it is to seek treatment for both OCD and other challenges you may be facing.
10. 3 out of 10 people with OCD also have a tic disorder
A tic disorder involves making involuntary, repeated, and sudden twitches, movements, or sounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although tics and OCD are two separate disorders, research suggests that tics are present in 30% of people who have OCD. Tourette’s syndrome is the most recognizable example of a tic disorder.
There may be genetic factors that play that predispose you to developing both. It’s also possible to have something called tourettic OCD, in which you have at least partly voluntary tic-like behaviors that are in response to obsessions or intrusive thoughts. The tics serve the purpose to relieve an underlying sense of discomfort that you’re feeling at the moment. Understanding what’s driving both tic and OCD behaviors is important for developing the right treatment strategy for one or both of these disorders.
11. 1 in 4 people with OCD also have hoarding disorder
Hoarding disorder is considered an OCD-related disorder. Hoarding involves keeping a lot of items that end up cluttering living spaces so much that you can’t use them as intended, which causes significant distress, says the IOCDF. While hoarding typically involves the excessive accumulation of physical things, digital hoarding is also a very real phenomenon that can affect people who display no physical hoarding traits or behaviors.
12. You’re 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have OCD when pregnant or postpartum
Pregnancy and the months following delivery can leave people especially vulnerable to developing OCD, according to research. This is commonly called perinatal OCD or postpartum OCD. It often manifests in the form of harm or contamination OCD, featuring obsessions about harming or contaminating one’s own child—physically or sexually—or about other bad things happening to them. This is different from postpartum psychosis, where there is a real risk to the mom and baby—in perinatal OCD, obsessions and fears are not in line with one’s values or intentions. In other words, they don’t actually indicate that a person is at risk of harming their child—if anything, it’s usually quite the opposite. It’s important to note that while this subtype mostly affects parents who gave birth to a child, it can also afflict any other parents, including adoptive parents.
13. OCD is a chronic disorder for 60-70% of people
Having a chronic disorder means that it sticks around for your lifetime. While there is no cure for OCD, with effective treatment, OCD can be managed, but there is always the risk that new obsessions and compulsions can emerge, says Dr. McGrath. Data from the journal American Family Physician suggests that OCD may be a lifelong struggle for 60-70% of people. That does not have to be your destiny because you can learn how to manage your symptoms to improve your quality of life. In other words, it is possible to conquer OCD. However, recovery is a process, but you can get to the point where you can identify what triggers your obsessions and then learn what you can do to manage your responses.
14. 1 out of 4 OCD patients decline effective treatment
The most effective form of therapy used to treat OCD is called exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which is the gold standard in treatment. Unfortunately, as the IOCDF points out,1 in 4 people with OCD refuse ERP altogether, keeping them from accessing their best chance at recovery. Finding a qualified therapist will help you enter into ERP therapy in a way that feels approachable for you.
15. Around 2 in 3 people benefit from treatment
Right now, your obsessions and compulsions may feel out of your control. But with the right treatment, around two thirds of people with OCD achieve significant results with ERP—and the impact can be life-changing.
How to Get Treatment for OCD
There are several treatment strategies for OCD, most often including ERP therapy and a number of effective medications. Medications used to treat OCD are in the antidepressant category, and they include fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), and sertraline (Zoloft), among others. These increase the amount of serotonin that’s active in certain regions of the brain in order to ease OCD symptoms—which is especially effective when it helps people engage more fully in therapy.
As mentioned above, the first-line therapeutic treatment for OCD is ERP. This approach requires working closely with a trained therapist who will guide you in confronting your obsessions while resisting your compulsions. As distress begins to build, you will want to perform a compulsion to get rid of that discomfort. But ERP asks you to make the conscious choice not to perform a compulsion, interrupting the vicious cycle that makes OCD worse over time. When these exercises are repeated throughout treatment and compulsions are resisted, your brain will build the neural connections needed to learn that you do not need to engage in compulsions in order for your distress to pass on its own. All emotions, including anxiety, are temporary and will dissipate with the passage of time.
It’s important to emphasize that you should work with a qualified therapist who is specially trained in ERP. At NOCD, every therapist has received specialty training in treating OCD with ERP, and they continue to receive ongoing oversight from some of the world’s leading experts in OCD treatment. To learn if NOCD is right for you, schedule a free 15-minute call with the NOCD Care team.