Dealing with OCD in College
Stephen Smith, founder of nOCD, first had the idea to make a treatment app for people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) after experiencing intrusive thoughts for the first time during college. OCD was taking over his life, but he couldn’t find effective or affordable treatment on campus, forcing him to withdraw from school while he pursued therapy. It’s fairly typical for OCD symptoms to surface for the first time between the ages of 21 and 25, sometimes triggered by periods of increased stress and responsibility. For Stephen and many others, college living provides the perfect storm of factors for OCD to rear its ugly head.
On-campus counseling centers are a great resource for many students who experience mental health problems during college, but for students with OCD, they might miss the mark. OCD is a chronic disorder in which recurring thoughts, urges, or images (obsessions) trigger anxiety, decreased temporarily by rituals or behaviors (compulsions) that actually serve to reinforce obsessions over time. It can be debilitating, but effective treatment does exist. The accepted standard is a combination of medication and exposure response prevention (ERP), in which a therapist works with a patient to expose him or her to anxiety-triggering thoughts or images while tolerating distress without the help of an OCD ritual. Despite the prevalence of the disorder – approximately 1 in 40 people worldwide meet the criteria – there are very few therapists trained in ERP. Those who do specialize in OCD typically have no shortage of clients, and rarely accept insurance. Finding OCD treatment anywhere is hard; finding OCD treatment at college can be impossible.
Technological solutions like nOCD can be an especially good option for college students:. young people, who tend to be tech savvy and excited about innovation might benefit from customizable ERP exercises, automatic tracking, and a social network of other real people with OCD. Below are some common problems faced by college students struggling to feel better, and how a tool like nOCD may help.
Between studying for exams, showing up to practice, and going to parties, how do I make time for ERP? By the time I get home, I’m exhausted, and purposefully triggering my anxiety is the last thing I want to do.
ERP is challenging and exhausting – just like OCD. But even a few minutes of ERP per day will contribute to recovery, while sending a powerful message to OCD that you’re working to regain control over its unwelcome presence. Traditionally, ERP took place in weekly sessions in a therapist’s office. But research suggests treatment is more effective when delivered through a variety of planned and unplanned exposures that are built into daily activities. For example, if a student suffers from harm OCD, and fears she’ll lose control and hurt someone while holding a sharp object, she might build her exposures into the meals she’s already attending in the dining hall, purposefully triggering her anxiety and delaying the accompanying ritual by holding a butter knife at breakfast or a steak knife at dinner. Using an app to help build ERP into her daily life and track progress means she doesn’t have to set aside free time she probably doesn’t have to start to feel better.
I’m already embarrassed by my symptoms. What if people think it’s weird I’m doing ERP in the dining hall ?
OCD thrives in solitude. You may not be ready to shout from the quad that you have intrusive thoughts about contracting a disease or running someone over with your car, but it can be helpful to connect with others who understand your journey. The nOCD Group feature is a great place to connect with other real people with OCD, and to provide and receive support. Summoning your scariest OCD obsessions in public places and around other people can be anxiety provoking. But remember: while you’re logging treatment progress, the outside observer will probably assume you’re just posting on Instagram or checking email!
College life makes me way more stressed out. Is this why my OCD is getting worse?
College can be stressful, and stress can increase the severity of OCD. OCD-specific treatment like ERP is critical, but practicing mindfulness or meditation, which many colleges offer through the counseling counter or clubs, can help decrease the power OCD thoughts have over you. You can find a range of apps that can help you practice mindfulness meditation in the comfort of your dorm or on the go. Many of us spend lots of time listening to music through headphones – why not sub out ten minutes of Spotify for some meditation? According to one study, patients who practiced mindfulness instead of distraction experienced less of an urge to follow an unwanted thought with a compulsion.
Questions or comments? Reach the nOCD team on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @treatmyocd.