What's OCD? Here's what you need to know

In the wake of comments slamming a retailer in England for selling pajamas that read, “Obsessive Christmas Disorder,” it’s clear that the inspiration behind it — obsessive compulsive disorder — is off limits jokewise. But what exactly is the mental illness, and how can it be treated?

Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist in New York City, has the answers. “Real OCD is a disorder that results in people having a lot of limitations around what they can do,” Mattu tells Yahoo Lifestyle, noting that the disorder can bring a variety of symptoms. Among them are: “needing symmetry or needing things to be positioned or placed in a certain way, fear of contamination, and fixation on words or letters.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1.2 percent of adults experienced OCD in the last year, more than half of whom reported their impairment as “serious.” Although the condition can be debilitating, Mattu says there are ways to lessen its effects.

“There are two effective forms of treatments,” he says. “Exposure and response prevention treatment, which is a therapy that helps people to be in a situation that produces the obsessive thoughts and then not engage in the rituals. That’s the most effective psychotherapy for OCD. And then there are a number of medications available that can also help people reduce OCD symptoms. For someone in a more severe category of OCD, we often combine therapy and medication to create an effective treatment.”

Getting treatment is an important step for those living with serious OCD, but breaking down the stigma is too.  Mattu notes the importance of looking at the big picture. “From Howard Hughes to Lena Dunham, a lot of people who are amazing at what they do have spoken about having OCD. There is hope. There are effective treatments,” he says. “There is so much you can do to help you better understand your OCD and better manage these symptoms.”

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