I’m worried my teenager might have OCD

Your Question

I am worried that my teenager might have OCD. They are having obsessive and strange thoughts and they always feel the need to do certain rituals, for example turning on and off lights a certain number of times and knocking on doors. Any advice would be appreciated. 


Hi there, thank you for contacting Ask Robyn. 

You have said that you are worried your child might have OCD, due to strange thoughts they are having and certain rituals they are doing as well. Observing your child present in a way that has you concerned that it could be OCD, a mental disorder, can be quite distressing, it is really positive that you are reaching out as we know this can be a hard thing to do. It is important to acknowledge that OCD can have a significant impact on a young person’s ability to manage everyday life and it can be exhausting for both the child and their parent. It can be upsetting to see your child having to manage these thoughts and behaviours, but it is important to remember that your child can come through this with the right help and support. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterised by the presence of intrusive anxiety producing thoughts, images, or impulses (obsessions) and/or excessive repetitive behaviours (compulsions) which are performed to try and cope with obsession related distress. Some of the most replicated symptom dimensions are: (a) contamination obsessions / washing and cleaning rituals, (b) obsessions about responsibility for causing harm to the self and others /checking compulsions, and (c) obsessions regarding order and symmetry /ordering and arranging compulsions.  For instance, some obsessional thoughts might involve a fear of harming another person or themselves. Some people with obsessive thoughts think they are going to become contaminated if they touch a certain object or have an obsession with having everything in perfect disorder. Many people can experience obsessive thoughts like these from time to time. However, with OCD, the thought is overwhelming, and the person feels compelled to carry out a compulsive behaviour in order to neutralise this distress. You can find out more about OCD on the HSE website: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/ 

Compulsive behaviours tend to reduce the anxiety in the short term, but they are thought to maintain the anxiety in the long term. The anxiety returns and the person tends to feel compelled to engage in compulsive behaviour again. This facilitates a cycle of obsessive-compulsive behaviour that can be very time consuming and impacts on the person’s ability to socialise, to study or even to sleep. 

It can be difficult to understand this disorder and your child might recognise that their thoughts are irrational, and yet still feel compelled to carry out compulsions.  In addition to the anxiety, people suffering with OCD may feel ashamed or disgusted by their thoughts and behaviours. Thus, it is important that you are there to support your child by listening and empathising in a non-judgemental manner.  

OCD is something that would need to be diagnosed by a professional, so you might find it beneficial to first speak to your GP and they can help you figure this out. The GP will be able to refer your on to a mental health professional who specialises in the area if they deem it appropriate. Therapy can be an invaluable in treating OCD and recovery is possible. It is important that you are also supported in this process either via family, friends or a professional. It can be distressing and isolating to deal with this on your own. Please feel free to contact us also on the ISPCC’s Support Line on 01 5224300. This line is open between 9am-1pm Monday-Friday. Alternatively, you can email us at [email protected] . We hope this information is helpful and that you get the support you need for your family.  

Take care,  


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