Inside worlds most misunderstood illness as Hollyoaks tackles terrifying OCD storyline

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It's not just about being a 'neat freak' – OCD is a widely misunderstood condition that can ruin lives.

A current Hollyoaks storyline sees Diane Hutchinson (played by Alex Fletcher) going to extreme lengths to protect her new baby Eva as she struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder.

In an attempt to keep her home Covid-free, she covers the furniture in plastic sheets. Often, OCD can become more extreme when sufferers feel like they have lost control.

They can then exhaust themselves and even endanger their own lives, trying to regain control by repeating rituals over and over again.

During lockdown, 84% of sufferers claimed their symptoms worsened, with OCD charities confirming a 110% increase in demand for their helpline.

Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey’s new Apple TV+ series The Me You Can’t See has touched on the condition, while Charlize Theron, Katy Perry and Mamma Mia! star Amanda Seyfried have all spoken about the challenges of living with OCD.

While it’s one of the world’s most misunderstood conditions, it’s also one of the most treatable.

Here’s everything you need to know about OCD…

The early signs

OCD comes in different forms, but mainly falls into one of four general categories:

Checking things, such as locks, alarms, ovens or light switches.

Contamination – a fear of things that might be dirty and a compulsion to clean.

Symmetry and ordering – the need to have things lined up in a certain way.

Ruminations and intrusive thoughts – an obsession with a line of thought. Some of these thoughts may be violent or disturbing.

The phrase “I’m so OCD” is bandied around too commonly, when people refer to their preference for things to be neat and tidy. However, Dr Maryhan Baker, a psychologist and parenting expert (pictured, above), suggests there are times when alarm bells should ring.

“If you find yourself starting to carry out any new rituals and feel super uncomfortable when you don’t do them, get help,” she says.

There’s no definitive cause for developing OCD. According to the charity, OCD Action, “It can be different from person to person. Like many mental health conditions, it seems to be a mix of genetic tendency, psychological factors and experiences.”

Almost a fifth of new mothers, like Hollyoaks’ Diane, suffer from OCD, triggered by a fear of their baby being harmed, according to a study at The University of British Columbia, Canada.

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When to seek help

It’s perfectly normal to have certain habits, like washing our hands, plumping up cushions or liking our mugs neatly stored away. But OCD becomes a problem when it dominates our daily lives.

“If it takes you hours to get out of the door for work or you can’t even be around people, it’s time to talk to someone,” Dr Baker explains. “There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – we all have times when we need a little extra help.”

She also suggests taking the following steps to help yourself:

Talk to a friend – just getting those thoughts and worries into the open can be a relief.

Try a meditation or story app like Calm or Headspace. It can help distract your mind.

Go out for a walk if you can. Changing your surroundings can have a big impact on your mood.

“I have anxiety and distress every hour of every day”

Hayley Martin, 51, lives in Cheshire with her husband. Hayley’s OCD started aged just five when she felt keeping her family and all animals safe was her responsibility.

“Even as a youngster I was so anxious I checked my home in the dead of night for the gas, boiler, electrical appliances – and burglars.

I used to work in a residential home for children with autism, but my OCD became so bad I had

to stop work. Then just as I was improving, Covid struck. It set me back severely.

My OCD and anxiety centres itself around checking rituals and highly intrusive distressing thoughts. I fear harm will come to my loved ones through my not being careful enough.

As a child I constantly made safety checks, then as I grew it morphed into health anxiety. Is that mole cancerous? Is she having a heart attack? Covid terrified me.

The problem is, my mum had cancer, I had a near fatal heart attack at the age of 39 and my neighbour died of Covid – so my fears don’t seem that irrational to me.

I feel anxiety and distress every hour of every day, so I decided not to have children.

Through therapy, I’ve learned the more you allow positive things in your life, the less time there is to focus on the bad. I’m still fighting it but hope that with more time and work, I might regain some hope again. And I’m starting a counselling course later this year in a bid to help others.“

  • For more advice from Dr Maryhan Baker visit drmaryhan.com. And for information from the UK’s largest OCD charity go to ocdaction.org.uk

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