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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Can Be Devastating, But Highly Treatable

“It’s my OCD.” I hear that on and off from friends and patients who half-jokingly use the term to describe overly careful behavior (such as double-checking to make sure the stove is off) but don’t actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder. True OCD can be a devastating disease. Patients have intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts and severe anxiety centered around the need to perform repetitive rituals. They can be physical such as hand washing or mental such as counting. The behavior significantly interferes with normal daily activities and persists despite most patients being painfully aware that the obsessions or compulsions are not reasonable.

OCD affects 2-3 percent of the world’s population. We’ve seen characters with the disorder portrayed in television (e.g., Tony Shalhoub’s Adrian Monk) and in film (e.g., Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall in “As Good As It Gets.”) Yet it’s still associated with stigma, shame, and an alarming level of ignorance by many health professionals. On average, people look for help for more than nine years and visit three to four doctors before receiving the proper diagnosis. In an excellent review article on the subject, Dr. Michael A. Jenike, offers three helpful screening questions: “Do you have repetitive thoughts that make you anxious and that you cannot get rid of regardless of how hard you try?” “Do you keep things extremely clean or wash your hands frequently?” And “Do you check things to excess?” He suggests that answering “yes” to any of these questions should prompt an evaluation for possible OCD. Of course, these are just screening questions and keeping a spotless kitchen doesn’t mean you have a disorder.

For this week’s CBS Doc Dot Com, I interviewed Jeff Bell, KCBS radio broadcaster and author of Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and When In Doubt, Make Belief: Life Lessons from OCD. He poignantly told me about the mental anguish associated with his illness, how it threatened to sabotage his career and personal life. His OCD focused on a fear of unintentionally harming others. He found himself unable to drive a car because every time he hit a bump he was afraid he had run somebody over; each time, he needed to get out and check. Even walking to work presented a challenge. He explained that a twig on the sidewalk could stop him in his tracks and fill him with what he knew were irrational thoughts but was powerless to control. Maybe somebody would be harmed by the twig if he didn’t move it. But if he did move it then maybe somebody would be harmed who wouldn’t have if he had just left it alone.

Jeff Bell sought treatment and turned his life around. His message is that others can do the same. Highly successful approaches including cognitive-behavioral therapies and medication can help the majority of patients. But only those who ask for help.

Resources for OCD include: The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and The New England Journal of Medicine.


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Reaching Adults – Teens Text Questions About Sex

As if we needed any more indications that the sexuality education we teach in schools might not be working, the latest place for teens to find answers to their questions is via cell phone.

In spite of web sites that allow teens to ask anonymous questions like We’re Talking Teen Health and Go Ask Alice!, teens are still looking for answers to immediate sexuality-related questions, and texting them is the newest way to get answers.

In California, teens can text their sexuality questions to ISIS by texting the word ‘hookup’ to the phone number 365247 which will allow them to sign up for weekly health tips. Each tip contains a prompt to text the word ‘clinic’ plus a zip code to get contact information for two local clinics.

In North Carolina, they can text questions to The Birds and Bees Text Line. Both services provide non-judgmental and medically accurate information within 24 hours to teens with questions.

Neither site provides medical advice, only information from an adult and encouragement to seek medical care. The important part is that these services are another place teens can reach out to adults for information and support.

I worry a little bit about what happens when teens admit they were raped, or are being sexually abused – what do the adults receiving this information do – and are they responsible for reporting what they learn to the authorities, but I guess that is a abridge we cross when we come to it.

For now, I am happy there are more adults willing to provide the information teens need to make good decisions, get medical care, and protect themselves. As always, parents would be the best source of sexuality information, but they might need their own texting site for their questions!

This post, Reaching Adults – Teens Text Questions About Sex, was originally published on Healthine.com by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

How To Help Teens Handle Test Stress

The junior year of high school includes a huge number of tests including midterms, finals, AP exams, SAT tests that all contribute to which colleges a teen will get into. The pressure is intense and even the mellowest teen will experience at least some anxiety.

Some stress helps teens do better, work harder, and stay focused. Too much stress will strip them of their confidence and actually make their test-taking skills worse. It is important that parent help teens prepare for tests by:

  • Not planning trips or events in the weeks before the tests;
  • Encouraging them not to cram the night before;
  • Encouraging them to take practice tests to increase their comfort;
  • Helping them get a good night sleep the night before the test and eating a healthy breakfast;
  • Going early and having what they need (picture ID, admit form, pencils, calculator);
  • Reminding them to read through the whole test making notes and then budget time and reading all the directions slowly and completely, as well as organizing their thoughts before writing; and
  • Working with them to remember to think positively, calming any anxious thoughts during the test.

No matter how independent our teens can be, testing season calls for extra parenting and comfort provision!

This post, How To Help Teens Handle Test Stress, was originally published on Healthine.com by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

Teenage Personal Responsibility: What Is The Motivation To Grow Up?

Many of us are conscious of the fact that not only has our culture extended adolescence to about age 22, now “adultescence” seems to be becoming the norm. This phenomenon is experienced by parents whose adult children return home after college, for whatever reason – some financial, others just not sure what else to do – creating a large number of “failure to launch” scenarios for parents who should be retiring and worrying about their own parents, without adult children to worry about, too!

Paralleling this process seems to be what my daughter, a rising senior in high school, describes as her own “I won’t grow up” crisis. She drives, she works, she makes decisions, she has friends and a boyfriend, she is excited about her summer plans, applying for college as well as going to college, and perceives her life as supported, magical and pretty darn perfect. So, why on earth should she look forward to being a grown-up?

What is the motivation? What do adults in our society have that teens and young adults who go to college do not – well let me see – marriages, bills, worry, stress, chores, a full time job, a house, cars to purchase and maintain, kids, colleagues, bosses, pets, neighborhood issues – and so on.

Newsflash folks, by giving our teens the rights and privileges associated with adulthood at younger and younger ages, we have effectively removed their motivation to grow up and leave home! Parenting has become a lifelong profession as we uberly competent and supportive parents have created a generation of young adults who do not need to become responsible for their own lives, and we have made it exceedingly difficult to answer the question – why should I grow up?

Beats me, is all I can say!

This post, Teenage Personal Responsibility: What Is The Motivation To Grow Up?, was originally published on Healthine.com by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

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