From time to time, it’s common to experience the blues. Feeling depressed is nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps you just ended a long-term relationship you thought was perfect, or maybe a family member received a terminal diagnosis, and you’re trying to come to grips with the news. This kind of external stimuli can make even the strongest person feel down from time to time, but it’s not anything to be concerned about. However, when the blues persist for a prolonged period and begin interfering with your life, then it becomes an issue.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies depression as a common mental disorder that affects . Depression, considered the leading cause of disability worldwide, significantly contributes to global disease. Unfortunately, the condition affects women more than men, which can lead to suicide—WHO indicates that about 280 million people have depression globally. Even worse, 700,000 people take their own lives each year because of the disease. It can cause a person to function poorly at school, work, or at home. In some cases, it’s debilitating to a point where they can’t even leave the house.
The severity of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is something else that’s often overlooked. For example, it’s common to hear someone make jokes about “being OCD” because of their cleanliness or organization habits. It’s easy to think that because you need to be clean, make your bed each day, or wash your hands a lot, you have OCD, but the condition is far more crippling and severe than most people realize. OCD is a condition that requires treatment to overcome. It can be paralyzing and significantly impact the person battling it. Without treatment, you don’t have many options.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), OCD affects 2.2 million adults in the United States, equating to around 1 percent of the total population. While depression is more common in women than men, OCD affects both genders the same. The average onset of the condition and when symptoms appear is around age 19. The same study found that 25 percent of all OCD cases occur by age 14, with 33 percent of adults describing that their first symptoms occurred when they were children.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of mental illness across the United States and abroad seems to be worsening. According to the National Institute on Mental Illness (NIMH), an estimated 52.9 million people, or one in five adults, struggled with some form of mental illness in the United States in 2020. Depression and OCD account for many of these cases. While the severity of depression and OCD will vary, ranging from moderate to severe, it has a substantial effect on the United States and its culture. Even worse, accessing mental health treatment is challenging in many communities.
The NIMH defines the difference between any mental illness (AMI) and serious mental illness (SMI). AMI is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that can range from no impairment to severe impairment. SMI is a mental, behavioral, or emotional condition that causes a severe functional impairment and interferes or limits an individual’s ability to participate in life. The burden of mental illness is concentrated among those who are disabled because of SMI. Both OCD and depression can fall under AMI or SMI. Some people experience minor symptoms, while others are disabled.
Below, we’ll delve deeply into depression and OCD, defining them, describing their differences and similarities, and what can be done to lead a normal life.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a condition that makes individuals have recurring and unwanted thoughts, obsessions, and compulsions. Some examples of these repetitive behaviors include checking on things, cleaning, or hand washing, which significantly impact their daily lives and social interactions. The condition can range from mild to severe.
Many individuals who don’t struggle with OCD will encounter distressing thoughts and repetitive behaviors. The primary difference between these people and someone diagnosed with OCD is that it won’t disrupt their lives. When someone diagnosed with OCD does not perform these rituals, they will experience extreme stress despite knowing their obsessions are unrealistic. Even knowing this, they can’t stop the thoughts or compulsive actions.
An OCD diagnosis requires that the presence of these obsessions or compulsions consumes more than an hour of the person’s day, impairs their work or social functioning, and causes them significant distress. As mentioned above, 2 percent to 3 percent of the U.S. population struggles with the condition. Symptoms typically appear around age 19 but can come on earlier or start later.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder includes compulsions and obsessions. However, it’s not impossible for someone to have only compulsion symptoms or obsession symptoms. You may not realize these compulsions or obsessions are unreasonable, but they’ll use a lot of your time and significantly impact your life.
Obsessions are persistent and recurrent thoughts or impulses that lead to severe distress, which causes anxiety and disgust. Many of those diagnosed with OCD understand their impulses are excessive and unreasonable. However, this makes no difference, and the logic or reasoning won’t reverse their intrusive thoughts. In an attempt to ease their obsessions, most people will try to ignore them or distract themselves through other activities. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work.
The most common obsessions include the following:
- Alarming sexual thoughts and images
- A fear of being contaminated by the environment around you or the people in it
- A fear that you can’t control blurting out insults or obscenities
- Recurrent intrusive thoughts of images, words, sounds, or numbers
- Unusual concern with precision, symmetry, or order
- A fear of discarding or losing something important
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that cause a person to feel an urge to perform in response to their obsession. These behaviors typically relieve the distress related to an obsession. Compulsions are often excessive responses related to the obsession, such as hand washing to squash their fear of getting contaminated. Sometimes, the behaviors are unrelated to the obsessions. In severe cases, these constant repetitions will last an entire day and make it so that a person cannot have a normal routine.
The most common compulsions include the following:
- Counting to the same number over and over again
- Seeking approval constantly to make sure they’re worthy
- Arranging and rearranging things to be in a particular order
- Constantly checking switches, locks, or appliances
- Excessive hand washing, teeth brushing, showering, or using the bathroom
OCD Risk Factors
The most common risk factors for OCD include the following:
- Family history: If your parents or other family members were diagnosed with the condition, it increases your chances of developing it as well.
- Life events: Some events in life, especially stressful ones, can increase the risk of developing the condition. The reaction can trigger your intrusive thoughts.
- Other mental health conditions: OCD is related to other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse, tic disorders, and depression.
OCD comes with a specific set of symptoms, but how does it compare to depression? Do the symptoms of depression worsen OCD, or vice versa? Let’s take a look below.
What Is Depression?
We know that depression is widespread in our society. It’s common to feel bad after losing a loved one or getting terminated from a job, but how does that depression differ from someone with a chemical imbalance in their brain?
Well, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines depression as a common but serious medical illness that adversely affects how we feel, think and act. Depression is treatable, but many people won’t reach out for help. The condition can cause us to feel sad, lose interest in activities that once brought us joy, and the inability to leave our bed. Depression can zap you of your energy, make you bedridden, and lead to other physical and emotional issues.
Depression affects one in 15 adults in the United States annually. One in six people will go through depression at one point in their lives. It can occur at any time but typically shows up in the late teens to mid-20s. Women are more likely to experience depression, with 33 percent of women encountering the condition in their lives. Although women are more susceptible to depression, men are 3.88 times more likely to die by suicide because of depression and other factors, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). On average, 130 suicides take place each day, and it’s considered the 12th leading cause of death in the United States.
If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please reach out for help. You are not alone – the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is here for you. Please contact them at 1 (800) 273-8255.
The symptoms of depression will vary from one person to the next. In some cases, they can be very mild and not affect the individual too much. However, in some cases, they can be severe and cause disability. The most common symptoms include:
- Losing interest in activities that once brought you joy
- Being in a depressed mood or feeling sad
- Noticeable changes in appetite, whether it being weight loss or gain from “stress eating”
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Sleeping too much
- Low energy – constantly feeling tired
- Inability to sit still
- Constant pacing
- Slowed speech or other movements that others notice
- Feeling constant guilty or ashamed of yourself
- Inability to make decisions, think, or concentrate
- Constant thoughts of death or suicidal ideation
Depression symptoms must persist for two weeks or more and demonstrate changes in your previous level of functioning to receive a diagnosis. It’s important to note that some medical conditions, such as brain tumors, vitamin deficiency, or issues with your thyroid can mimic depressive symptoms. You must go through a physical to rule out other potential causes.
Depression Risk Factors
Depression can affect anyone, but below are common factors that play a vital role in the development of depression:
- Genetics: Depression often runs in the family.
- Biochemistry: Specific chemicals in the brain can contribute to depression symptoms.
- Environmental factors: People living in areas continually exposed to violence, abuse, or poverty are more likely to become depressed.
- Personality: If you have low self-esteem or are pessimistic or easily overwhelmed by stress, the chances of developing depression are much higher.
Now that we understand the differences between OCD and depression, what is the connection between the two?
Is There a Connection Between OCD and Depression?
OCD and depression are two conditions that can cause similar amounts of chaos in a person’s life, but are the two connected? The relationship between OCD and depression is complex, and understanding why these two co-occur will help the person suffering develop better mental and physical health. If you’re diagnosed with one of these conditions or both, it’s not a death sentence. Fortunately, options are available. For now, let’s examine how they’re related.
It’s common to be diagnosed with OCD and depression. According to the International OCD Foundation, an estimated 25 percent to 50 percent of those diagnosed with OCD will have depression simultaneously. It’s common to experience OCD symptoms first and then depression. In rare cases, a small percentage of people will encounter both conditions at the same time. However, the OCD foundation says it’s rare for depression to appear before OCD. Its researchers say depression is part of OCD.
Does Depression Lead to OCD?
As we touched on above, genetics, childhood trauma, and other mental health conditions can cause OCD. However, a specific cause is yet to be uncovered by researchers, meaning there is no link to depression causing OCD.
Does OCD Lead to Depression?
In short, OCD can lead to depression. Since depression starts once OCD symptoms emerge, researchers believe the hardship OCD causes is enough to make someone feel depressed. Many reasons can cause you to become depressed, including the challenges caused by your compulsive actions, the type of compulsive thoughts you have, and the disruptions OCD causes in your life.
OCD and depression affect how you function in a healthy manner. Obsessions affect your mind, and compulsions will wreak havoc with your schedule. When your social life, relationships, and performance at school or work start deteriorating, through no fault of your own, you will start feeling hopeless and depressed. Research from the National Library of Medicine (NCBI) shows that the more severe your obsessions or compulsions are, and the more significant the impact it has on your life, the worse your depression will become. It’s important to reach out for help if OCD symptoms are leading you to feel hopeless.
Are OCD and Depression Similar?
On the surface, it may not sound like OCD and depression share similarities. However, when you dig a little deeper and gain a more clear understanding of the conditions, you understand they are similar. The two conditions have some overlapping symptoms, including the following:
- OCD and depression are similar in how they affect your relationships, mood, and how you function.
- OCD and depression are similar in how they cause you to have negative beliefs about yourself.
- OCD and depression are similar in how they alter thinking patterns that can lead to a worsening of symptoms.
- OCD and depression are similar in how they can be treated with psychotherapy and medication.
What Are the Differences Between OCD and Depression?
Despite the two conditions sharing various symptoms, there are some distinctions. Here are some of the key differences:
- OCD pushes you to repeat behaviors in an attempt to relieve your anxiety. With depression, you will not feel an urge to turn light switches on and off. However, depression can be tied to the compulsive use of substances like alcohol or opioids and sex to relieve your feelings of depression.
- While OCD can lead to the development of tic disorders, no studies prove a connection between tic disorders stemming from depression.
- In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), depression is classified as a mood disorder. However, older versions of the manual classified OCD as an anxiety disorder. In the most recent version, OCD is neither classified as an anxiety or mood disorder.
How Do I Treat OCD and Depression?
If you’ve been diagnosed with OCD, depression, or both, it’s important to seek treatment immediately. You’ve likely endured symptoms for quite some time, and getting your diagnosis isn’t much of a shock. However, the silver lining is now that you have a concrete answer to what’s going on, you can seek the proper treatment and put yourself on the road to recovery.
Fortunately, both conditions are treatable through medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. In addition to these treatments, you can alleviate symptoms through mindfulness, yoga, and exercise. Receiving a diagnosis is a good thing because now you know how to proceed. Doctors suggest focusing on OCD symptoms first because when you find relief from the burden that OCD brings, you might start seeing relief from your depression. With that being said, treating depression likely won’t reduce your OCD symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the best options to treat both conditions. CBT is a form of psychological treatment that can significantly improve your functioning and quality of life. It’s been shown to be as effective as other forms of psychological interventions and psychiatric medications. CBT relies on the following core principles:
- Psychological issues we experience are based on unhelpful ways of thinking.
- Psychological issues are based on unhelpful behavior.
- Individuals struggling with psychological problems like OCD or depression can learn better ways of coping with the conditions, which relieves symptoms and allows them to become more effective in how they lead their lives.
CBT involves efforts to change thinking patterns by gaining an understanding of their behavior and the motivation of others. It also involves using problem-solving skills to cope with challenging situations and allows individuals to face their fears instead of avoiding them.
While CBT is extremely helpful, some people deal with a chemical imbalance, meaning medication will also be needed. The most common medications used to treat OCD and depression include Anafranil, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. However, your treating physician may opt for other antidepressants or psychiatric medications to ease your symptoms. We all have unique brain chemistry, meaning we might need a different combination of drugs and therapy to help us.
Fortunately, help is available. If you’re battling OCD and depression, you’re a phone call away from relief.