24 August 2015

Troubled teens

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/
Half of all adults with OCD also suffered with the condition as a child, but this will often have gone undiagnosed and untreated. 

Early recognition is important to prevent the disorder taking a grip, however, it can be hard for the layman to distinguish between compulsions and ordinary behaviour; lining up toys in a specific way, for example, is very common in children and is part of normal development. Likewise, typical - and possibly rather difficult - adolescent behaviour may be misinterpreted as a mental health problem.

During a recent routine visit to the nurse at my GP's practice, we got talking about my blog, which prompted her to ask, 'Would it help young people? We get a lot of 17-year-olds in here with OCD.' I pointed her in the direction of relevant resources, including OCD Youth, a branch of OCD Action run by young people for young people.

It was only later that I wondered about her specific reference to 17-year-olds. Although the condition can strike at any time, and its exact causes are still unknown, significant life events are a trigger for some. The late teenage years are undoubtedly a time of change and stress, with youngsters either facing important exams or entering full-time work for the first time.

A few weeks after this chat, a friend told me that her daughter, who is in her early teens, had read my novel. A few chapters in, she had come downstairs and asked her mum, 'Do I have OCD?'

From my friend's description of her daughter's behaviour, she is certainly showing signs of it - with various ordering compulsions - and apparently reacts badly when family members don't comply with her rituals.

She had also queried, 'Is there something wrong with me?', which I found heartbreaking. It's hard enough to fit in as a teenager, without throwing a mental health condition into the mix. On the other hand, if she does have a problem, it's better she find out now and address it, before it takes over her life. 

I encouraged my friend to do some further research, so that they could be clear as to exactly what they were dealing with and how best to handle it. She admitted that the family already accommodated her daughter's demands 'to avoid all the screaming'. It's natural that a parent should wish to reduce their child's anxiety, but pandering to unreasonable behaviour is a short-term fix, counter-productive, and definitely to be avoided when tackling OCD.

There is plenty of help out there for young people, as well as their families, and peer support is a crucial element: just realising that you're not alone can be an immense relief.

The OCD Youth website, which is aimed at those up to the age of 25, contains a wealth of information, in addition to a members' forum, and the group also runs social activities and online meet-ups. If you need advice for yourself or a loved one, it's a great place to start.

UK readers might be interested in checking out this week's Horizon programme 'OCD: A Monster in My Mind': it's on BBC2, at 8pm on Wednesday 26 August.


Lindsay said...

A very useful post, Helen, in raising awareness that young people can get help and where. I shall certainly watch the programme.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Helen. My son diagnosed himself with OCD at the age of, you guessed it, seventeen. In his case, and I'm guessing in others as well, he knew something was wrong for at least a few years, but wasn't sure what was going on. I'm sure the stress of that age, as you mention, brought his OCD to the forefront. Thanks for all the great advice in this post!

Helen Barbour said...

Lindsay, thanks for your comments and I hope you find the programme interesting.

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, thanks for your feedback. An interesting coincidence re your son!