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OCD: When routines turn obsessive for teens

Richmond event to mark Mental Illness Awareness Week focused on adolescents and everyday problems
To mark Mental Illness Awareness Week, a series of short films about people living with OCD were screened, followed by a panel-led discussion, last night at Richmond Hospital. Photo Submitted

We all have daily routines and hourly habits, some more entrenched than others.

But what if that ritual becomes an obsession which affects your basic ability to function, be it at school as a teenager or an adult at work?

You may not realize it, but there is a distinct possibility you are suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Often dismissed and flippantly referred to in conversations, OCD is a living, breathing condition controlling, disrupting and, in many cases, damaging the daily life of thousands of people in Richmond and beyond.

That’s why, during Mental Illness Awareness Week, a series of short films about people living with OCD were being screened, followed by a panel-led discussion, at a special event at Richmond Hospital.

Leading the post-screening discussion was Dr. Evelyn Stewart, director of research for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, BC Children’s Hospital, who said that, in youth, the OCD could go on for years without teachers, parents or family doctors even recognizing it.

“On average, it can take around 13 years before it gets proper recognition,” Stewart told the Richmond News.

“(Parents) should look for their child getting distraught at simple things, such as getting ready for school or with their homework; things taking much longer than they should and repetitive behaviour.

“But not everything is visible; they could be mentally reviewing things or going through mental rituals all the time.”

What parents or guardians of the youth or adult with OCD shouldn’t do, according to Stewart, is get sucked into “family accommodation.”

“If the child doesn’t want to touch a door handle for some reason, the parent opening the door for them is a mistake,” she explained.

“And making two sets of meals to accommodate a disorder is also not helping. Both of these examples just makes the OCD stronger.”

At Tuesday’s screening – organized in association with Pathways Clubhouse, Vancouver Coastal Health and the Richmond Mental Health and Substance Use Program – attendees learned how the percentage of youth suffering from an OCD is one to two per cent; similar to that in adults.

But the onset for boys, added Stewart, is usually around age eight to 10 and a little later, around puberty, for girls.

Stewart said that parents can sometimes feel guilty that they have somehow caused the OCD due to a stressful event that happened, such as a divorce or moving home.

“It doesn’t mean it was that event that caused it,” she said.

“It’s genetic and certain people are born with stronger influences than others. The event was maybe a tipping point in their lives.”

Stewart said there are basically two pieces to the OCD puzzle: recognizing it exists and then accessing, what she said, is the limited treatment from cognitive therapy professionals.

“There have been a lot of efforts to change (the levels of access), however,” Stewart added.

“If you do get there, the treatment is usually ‘cognitive behaviour therapy,’ which teaches children the skills to fight back against the OCD and works with them to develop skills to stop getting bossed around by it.

“It’s also about building up their confidence that they can fight this and win. It’s very treatable once it is recognized.”

Although OCD is not a new disorder by any stretch, Stewart believes it’s getting more recognition and credibility now due to “famous people” such as hockey player Corey Hirsch and footballer David Beckham coming forward with their OCD stories.

“And I would also like to think the stigma that used to surround mental health is not what it used to be.”

For people who think they, or a loved one, are suffering from OCD, Stewart recommends checking out the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at BC Children’s Hospital. Its website is

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