Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 1 – October 7) is an annual national public education campaign designed to create awareness of mental illness. Although there are many faces of mental illness, I’d like to spotlight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is often greatly misunderstood. OCD can affect anyone, and according to the Canadian Psychological Association approximately 1% to 2% of the Canadian population will have an episode of OCD in their lifetime.
What is OCD?
OCD is made up of two parts – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges or images that don’t go away. Compulsions are behaviours like washing, cleaning or ordering things in a certain way. Over 90% of people with clinical OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, with 25% to 50% reporting multiple obsessions. Although many people who suffer from OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, they still can’t control them. While we often associate OCD with people who wash their hands constantly, are germ phobic or refuse to shake hands, sadly, people with OCD are frequently the butt-end of jokes. We know that OCD is anything but funny; in fact, it is often a debilitating mental illness that severely affects a person’s ability to enjoy life.
Additionally, OCD often interferes with work and negatively impacts relationships. In severe cases, obsessive thoughts and repetitive, compulsive rituals can consume the entire day, making it difficult to hold down a job or maintain personal relationships.
What causes OCD?
The cause of OCD has not been established. Studies have suggested that the cause may be genetic, biological and/or psychological, but as yet there is nothing definitive.
Some signs of OCD
In the workplace, you may notice:
- Excessive hand washing and/or hand wringing
- Refusal to shake hands
- Everything on their desk has to be precisely arranged
- May become visibly upset if you touch or move any of their things
- Need to check and recheck their work
- Late to meetings because of their need to “prepare” again and again
- Appear to be lost in thought because of their obsessions
How best to support an employee with OCD
There are several effective ways to support an employee with OCD. An EAP is an excellent resource for a person suffering from OCD. You can also gently encourage your employee to seek medical help as medication and therapy can benefit the OCD sufferer. There are also modifications and accommodations that you can make to better support them at your organization:
- Allow telecommuting
- Issue deadlines as much in advance as possible
- Try not to put the person in situations where frequent handshaking is expected
- Make hand sanitizer readily available
- Avoid disturbing the setup on the employee’s desk
- Don’t ask to borrow their office supplies or equipment
- If possible, avoid putting the employee in stressful situations as stress is a major trigger of OCD
Do you have a process in place to accommodate employees suffering from OCD or other forms of mental illness? If not, a referral to the EAP and the willingness to make modifications in the workplace will go a long way to setting up employees for success and ensuring that your employees are feeling supported by their employer.