In the movie The Aviator, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the biographical role of Howard Hughes, a notoriously eccentric billionaire businessman and aviator. Hughes suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) throughout his life, which became more pronounced later in life, causing him to become a near-recluse.
Due to OCD, Hughes had an excessive fear of contamination and germs, and scenes in the movie show him carrying his own bar of soap to wash his hands with in public restrooms and washing his hands in stereotypically obsessive ways. As the severity of his mental illness increases, he develops elaborate routines that must be followed. If any mistake in the routine occurs, he must start over and begin the routine again.
The movie brought recognition to the plight of those who suffer from OCD for two reasons: the movie showed a realistic depiction of what it can be like to suffer from OCD, and Leonardo DiCaprio publicly announced that, like Hughes, he suffers from OCD too.
Like Howard Hughes, DiCaprio also had a fear of germs and would wash his hands frequently. He also had other OCD-typical behaviors such as having to touch things a specific number of times and having to step on cracks in the sidewalk in a very specific way. If he didn’t do it correctly, he would have to go back and start over.
While sometimes Hollywood can portray OCD behavior as something quirky or even charming, the truth is that OCD can be severely life-impacting. Those suffering from OCD often feel trapped by these compulsions they cannot escape.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
OCD is a mental health disorder that causes recurring and intrusive thoughts or impulses that cause distress, usually accompanied by repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed in response to these obsessions. The intrusive thoughts are obsessions, while the repetitive behaviors are compulsions.
Obsessions are unwanted and distressing thoughts or urges that persistently occur in a person’s mind. Common obsessions include fear of germs and contamination, a need for symmetry and order, disturbing thoughts, or fear of harm or danger occurring to oneself or loved ones.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that individuals with OCD feel compelled to perform. Failure to perform the behavior often induces high levels of anxiety. Compulsions include excessive handwashing or cleaning of living spaces, repetitive checking behavior (such as repeatedly checking door locks or household appliances), counting, touching objects, or arranging objects in a specific way.
When Does OCD Start?
OCD can begin at any age, but there are two peak periods when OCD is more likely to emerge:
- Childhood Onset. Children can develop OCD, with the average age of onset in children at about 10 years old. However, children as young as 5 or 6 years old have been diagnosed with OCD. Children with early-onset OCD may experience different symptoms compared to adults, and their obsessions and compulsions may be related to specific themes like contamination, symmetry, or ordering.
- Late Adolescence/Early Adulthood Onset: Another peak period for OCD onset is during late adolescence or early adulthood, between the late teens and early twenties. This time of life corresponds to significant life transitions such as graduation from high school, beginning college, moving from home for the first time, and taking on increased responsibilities. These unfamiliar situations and higher stress levels can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms.
Because OCD and autism can both manifest during childhood and adolescence, and because both conditions share some overlapping characteristics, it can be difficult to distinguish between OCD and autism behaviors. Parents, caregivers, or other loved ones concerned about a child exhibiting symptoms of OCD or autism should seek a clinical diagnosis from a psychiatrist in order to receive an accurate diagnosis.
Living With OCD
Those living with OCD describe a constant state of worry and anxiety, which is only partially alleviated by performing compulsive behaviors. An obsession with neatness and order, for example, may manifest as a fixation on clean cabinets. Even if the cabinets are clean, a person suffering from OCD may lie awake at night obsessing over whether the cabinets are truly clean. They cannot dismiss the worry, even if they checked the cabinet earlier in the day.
Eventually, they may have to get out of bed to check the cabinet, or even empty the already-clean cabinet and rearrange it neatly again to be able to fall asleep. Both the obsessive worry over the cabinet and the compulsion to clean it are intrusive, unwanted behaviors characteristic of someone living with OCD.
Without treatment, OCD can become a prison that entraps people in a world consumed by intrusive thoughts and behaviors. People living with OCD describe it as a constant burden of thought, worry, and compulsive behavior that robs them of their free will. The mental energy required to deal with the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors becomes exhausting, leaving them constantly drained.
After moving to Los Angeles, Leonardo DiCaprio noticed his OCD becoming much worse. The change in environment caused a mild case of OCD to escalate into a much more severe case, to the point he became increasingly reclusive and reluctant to leave his house. His OCD made it difficult to concentrate on work and he considered quitting acting altogether because of his disorder. Fortunately, he was able to get treatment and now reports his OCD is well-managed.
What Treatments Help OCD?
Those suffering from OCD have several different treatment options to choose from. Therapy, medication, ketamine, and TMS have all been shown to help alleviate or even eliminate the symptoms of OCD.
Visiting a psychiatrist or therapist is recommended for those suffering from OCD. A good therapist can help people with OCD process their thoughts and emotions, helping them to regain control of their thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
Patients suffering from OCD can be treated with medication, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Although SSRIs (such as Prozac and Zoloft) are typically thought of as antidepressants, they work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which helps to regulate mood and anxiety. In patients suffering from OCD, SSRIs can reduce the frequency and intensity of OCD symptoms.
Ketamine has shown promise as a potential treatment for OCD. It works through a different mechanism than OCD medications and antidepressants. Rather than primarily targeting serotonin, ketamine acts on the glutamate system, specifically by blocking NMDA receptors and enhancing the activity of AMPA receptors in the brain. Several studies have explored the use of ketamine as a treatment for OCD with promising results, finding that ketamine may rapidly reduce OCD symptoms in some individuals, even in those who have not responded to previous treatments.
TMS has been shown to be highly effective in reducing or eliminating the severity and occurrence of OCD symptoms and behaviors. It was approved as a treatment for OCD by the FDA in 2018. TMS is a non-invasive, painless mental health treatment that helps the brain generate new neural pathways which overcome existing problem areas due to OCD, depression, anxiety, PTSD or other mental disorders. (Source)
OCD Treatment in Utah
People living in Utah and suffering from OCD can find help at Ampelis Health. Ampelis Health offers therapy, medication, ketamine, and TMS options for OCD. Our knowledgeable, caring psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan customized to the needs of the individual patient.
Stop letting OCD control your life – call Ampelis Health today at 435-776-5909 to schedule an appointment.