Unlike some mental health disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder is still not well-understood. It’s a condition with a slow onset and acute symptoms that almost everyone experiences to some degree. The causes of OCD are also not very clear, although it’s considered to be a brain disorder with genetic ties, meaning that no particular behavior makes some people more at risk than others.
One thing that is clear about OCD is that it’s being talked about now more than ever, and for people who struggle with it on a daily basis, that’s a good thing. There’s also a perception that OCD is more common than it’s ever been.
IN this article, we review some key OCD stats, including its prevalence and if it’s become more common in the last few decades.
The Prevalence of OCD in the United States
According to BeyondOCD.org, the disorder affects 1 in every 100 American adults. That’s a rate of 1%, or approximately 2.2 million people nationwide.
How does this compare to other mental health issues? Here’s the rate of prevalence of a few of the most common mental health issues, courtesy of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
- Anxiety disorders affect around 18.1% of the U.S. adult population, split between generalized anxiety and social anxiety.
- Around 6.7% of American adults experience major depressive episodes (16.1 million people in total).
- Post-traumatic stress disorder affects approximately 7.7 million people, or 3.5% of the domestic adult population.
OCD is marked by obsessive behaviors and intrusive thoughts, and it shares a few symptoms (like obsession over a specific outcome and compulsive behavior) with the family of mental illnesses known as eating disorders. Because these conditions are similar in the ways they manifest in those who suffer from them, we compared OCD’s prevalence to that of the most common eating disorders. Data is from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects 1% of the U.S. population.
- Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that compels people to starve themselves, affects approximately 0.6% of the population.
- Bulimia nervosa, which involves binge-eating (overeating) and then forced purging (vomiting), affects around 0.3% of adults in the United States.
- Binge eating disorder, an eating disorder marked by the inability to stop eating, affects an estimated 1.2% of the American population.
Are OCD Stats Affected by Demographic Factors?
Because OCD has a genetic link, there doesn’t seem to be much that connects the onset of the diseases to age, gender, race or socioeconomic factors. One Canadian study, in which OCD prevalence was reported to be between 0.75% and 1.11% of the total population, found that participants who came from lower-income households, had other mental or behavioral health issues, or had experienced childhood trauma were more likely to also be suffering from OCD.
Age also has some relation with OCD. Researchers suspect that inherited cases of OCD may be more likely to start when a person is younger. A review of two studies, cited by The International OCD Foundation, suggests that the genetic linkages were higher the lower the age of onset.
The same source also mentions PANDAS, a rare condition in which children develop OCD at a young age as a response to infection in the body. Teen OCD stats aren’t very well established, but by the age of 14, it’s estimated that 25% of OCD cases will have manifested in those with the disorder.
This research suggests that there’s still much to be learned about the causes and origins of OCD.
OCD and Suicide Deaths
OCD is a disease that can often — at least in less severe cases — be managed. This has caused society to underestimate the disorder as a whole. Unfortunately, in the most severe cases, some of the symptoms of OCD have been described as “torture.”
People often try to train themselves to stop following patterns of compulsive behavior. When they fail, it can be extremely disheartening, which is why OCD often co-occurs with depression, anxiety and common coping methods like substance abuse and addiction. Conventional wisdom would say that, while OCD isn’t life-threatening in and of itself, the population with this disorder may show a higher suicide rate than one without mental illness.
IntrusiveThoughts.org, a website that aims to raise awareness about OCD and methods of treatment, backs this up by citing studies suggesting that people with OCD are up to 10% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Additionally, 5–25% of people with OCD report at least one suicide attempt in their lives.
Self-harm can be a symptom of OCD as well. People with the disease have intrusive thoughts, many of which are about doing something impulsive to themselves or others. While most patients suppress these unsettling thoughts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a person could be driven to suicide by this condition.
How Many People Seek Treatment for OCD?
There’s a suggestion that the actual prevalence rate of OCD may be higher than the reported 1% in the United States. This is because many people with OCD simply function through it, albeit not well in many cases.
This means, though, that the rate may be underreported, and that the cases the treatment community knows about are those that seek treatment. Whatever the cause, the rates of treatment versus occurrence for OCD are high.
There are effective clinical treatments for the disease. Certain medications have been found to stabilize brain function and suppress intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the decision-making process, has proved to be effective in a clinical setting.
Global Occurrence of OCD
Internationally, there are only slight variations in OCD rates from country to country. For example, according to OCD UK, the rate in the UK is 1.2%, slightly higher than the 1% OCD rate in the United States. This is believed to still be within a reasonable margin for error, suggesting the two countries have the same prevalence of the disease.
Globally, the rates vary from 1.1% — very close to the rate in the United States — to 1.8%, which is not as close but still not a major increase. This suggests that there isn’t a strong geographical link to OCD occurrence.
Public Opinion and Perception of OCD
OCD is one of a few conditions that’s trivialized in popular culture. “I’m OCD about” a given behavior is a commonly heard phrase in conversation, and some television programs make light of the compulsions and addictions brought on by OCD.
This may tell the people who suffer from OCD that they should just live with it, and many do. However, such behavior can be harmful to their social development and their ability to live functional lives. They may not feel normal and never reach out to get the help that they need, which can harm their health in the future.
OCD Treatment at FHE Health
Once you know the OCD stats, it’s time to talk treatment. If you or a loved one is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, no matter how severe, contact the mental health treatment experts at FHE Health and learn about your options for treatment.