OCD Signs and Treatment for Teens

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The teen years are filled with struggles and changes, but for some teens, underlying mental health issues make growing up more difficult than the normal adolescent experience.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, isn’t simply having a love of organization or an intense dislike for things that are out of place. OCD is a serious mental health condition that can be debilitating and make it impossible for your teen to complete their normal daily activities in its most severe form.

Fortunately, OCD is treatable, so it’s important to seek a professional evaluation for your child as soon as possible if you notice signs of OCD or another mental health problem.

Signs of OCD in Teens

Signs of OCD and other mental illnesses can be difficult to identify in teenagers. Many teens try to hide or downplay their symptoms due to the stigma associated with mental illness or social pressures.

While only a professional can diagnose your teen with OCD, you can help identify a need for professional help early if you pay attention to your child’s behaviors at home and school and talk to them regularly about their mental and emotional state.

One of the first signs of OCD in teens is often trouble with schoolwork. Obsessive behaviors and rituals might arise around academic work, such as getting stuck on precision, working too slowly due to academic rituals, obsessive checking for errors, and excessive need for reassurance from teachers.

Excessive worrying can be another sign of OCD in teenagers, although symptoms that relate to worry can be indicative of other anxiety disorders as well. Teens with OCD often fixate on worries over germs, illness, or death. Intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts about sickness, death, violence, or sexual acts can be another sign of OCD in young people.

Obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsive and ritualistic behaviors that are easier to identify as possible symptoms than thoughts are, especially if your teen doesn’t open up about their thoughts and feelings easily.

Counting rituals, putting things in a certain order, repeatedly checking things, such as appliances, and excessive cleaning or handwashing can all be indicative of OCD, particularly if paired with other symptoms. Your teen’s compulsions must interfere with normal daily functioning or cause distress in order for a mental health professional to diagnose them with OCD.

Treatment for OCD

Treatment comprises two elements: therapy and medication.

Therapy

The primary treatment for OCD in teenagers is therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, techniques are used for a variety of mental health problems, including OCD. CBT doesn’t delve extensively into the patient’s past; it aims to change thought patterns to healthier ones instead.

Exposure and response prevention, or ERP, is a specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that is particularly effective with OCD sufferers. ERP helps the patient face their obsessive thoughts and rituals and challenge their responses with the safe guidance of a trained therapist.

Patients who go through ERP learn that they are in control of their own thoughts and actions, and they learn to face their fears and anxieties slowly over time until they develop healthier coping mechanisms and are able to challenge intrusive thoughts and obsessive behaviors effectively.

Ask your teen’s therapist questions about their experience treating OCD in minors. A good therapist will be able to explain the CBT and ERP techniques they are trained and experienced in using and answer any questions you have about your child’s treatment.

Medication

Medication isn’t typically prescribed for OCD as a first treatment. If CBT and ERP aren’t sufficient to manage your teen’s symptoms, their medical team may suggest medication. Some teens who have OCD take medication for other diagnosed mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders.

We're Here For You

Anxiety Institute offers treatment for adolescents and teens suffering from OCD in the Greenwich, Connecticut, and Madison, New Jersey, areas. If you suspect your teen may have OCD or an anxiety disorder, contact us today to set up a consultation appointment.

About the Author

Headshot: Stacey Dobrinsky, Ph.D.
Dr. Dobrinsky has over ten years of experience treating children and adolescents with OCD and anxiety disorders. She specializes in severe, treatment refractory anxiety and OCD and utilizes a combination of Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) in her treatment.