A College Students Guide to OCD

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2.2 million people in the United States are affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a mental health disorder that affects both men and women and often appears during early adulthood. It is a disorder in which a person has extreme obsessions that often lead to compulsions or behaviors that are ritualistic. Students who are preparing for or currently attending college are faced with challenges that could affect their overall success both academically and socially. If a student has OCD and it goes untreated, a student’s abilities to concentrate, participate, and study are likely to be hindered, which may affect their ability to obtain the education they desire. The stress and unfamiliarity of the college atmosphere are also hurdles that students with OCD must overcome, particularly when living on campus in a dormitory with a roommate.


The symptoms of OCD are generally associated with a person’s compulsions, obsessions, or both. These symptoms can vary from one person to another, as some may have compulsions while others may only display symptoms associated with obsession. An obsession is a thought or urge that a person cannot overcome. For example, a person may have an obsession with cleanliness, organization, fire, or even crime or violence. Symptoms may include anxiety, distress, doubt, extreme stress, or fear that is associated with the obsession. Compulsions stem from the urge to perform certain tasks excessively and repeatedly. Often, they are a result of an obsession, and they may bring momentary relief from the symptoms of that obsession. Some of the symptoms of compulsion are excessive handwashing or bathing, cleaning, counting, checking and rechecking, or organizing.

How to Get Help

It is important that students know where to turn for help when it is needed. Some colleges and universities have resources available on campus in the form of mental health services or counseling centers. When seeking help from the school, ask to speak with a cognitive behavioral therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered an effective method of treating OCD and can be useful while in school. Universities with mental health or counseling centers are often able to accommodate students’ needs, or they may recommend an off-campus therapist. Treatment by the university’s cognitive behavioral therapist is an ideal option, as sessions will likely be covered by one’s student insurance. Colleges may also offer accommodations in the classroom, such as extra testing time if needed, to help students with OCD in the course of their studies. In some instances, a student may have difficulty finding the treatment that they require either at their college or nearby. In these cases, the student may consider switching to another school where treatment is more readily available.

Preparing for College With OCD

Some students enter college already aware that they have OCD. When a student has dealt with the disorder during high school, they may not think it will affect their education any differently. College, however, is a different environment than secondary school and offers new challenges. A new campus, a bigger school, sharing one’s accommodations, or being away from home can throw off a student with OCD. Students and their parents should have medical records sent to the college counseling or mental health office in advance and set up an introductory meeting. This will introduce them to a cognitive behavioral therapist and enable them to make arrangements before serious problems arise. It will also alert the student and family if they must look outside of the school for therapy, which will give them time to get a referral from the student’s current therapist or doctor. It is also helpful to sign up for support groups before school starts.

Before heading to college, students should also pay close attention to the circumstances that affect their disorder. One should take note of when their OCD symptoms worsen and what may cause this. Also, they should make note of what behaviors or strategies are helpful. This awareness is useful when it comes to managing OCD, as are regular exercise and healthy eating.

Finding Support

When it comes to OCD, there are many useful resources available to college students and their parents. Much of this information can be found online on medical websites and sites for OCD associations, organizations, and private groups. Books, both digital and in print, are also useful sources of information. These resources are also a good way to research treatment methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

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