Starting University with OCD

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starting university with ocd

Starting university is an exciting and transformative phase in anyone’s life. It’s a time of new experiences, newfound independence, and the opportunity to explore a world of knowledge. However, for individuals living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), this transition can come with its own set of unique challenges.

OCD is a mental health condition characterised by intrusive, unwanted, and repetitive thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviours or mental acts (compulsions) that help to temporarily reduce the anxiety associated with the obsessions.

An estimated three quarters of a million people are living with and affected by OCD in the UK1.

The prospect of starting university can be daunting for anyone, but it can be particularly worrisome for someone living with OCD starting as a fresher at uni.

OCD can often make social interactions a challenge. Making new friends and participating in social events is a crucial part of the fresher experience, but for individuals with OCD, social situations can trigger anxieties. Fear of being judged or contaminating others may lead to avoidance behaviours, isolating the student and hindering their ability to form meaningful connections.

In an article by psychiatrist Dr Amy Mariaskin, she notes that little research has been conducted into the impact of OCD on friendships in comparison to the impact of the condition on romantic relationships. She said: “However, for those with the disorder, finding and nurturing friendships while in the thick of symptoms can be just as difficult”2.

Moreover, the physical environment of a university campus can pose challenges. Shared spaces like student hall living spaces and kitchens might trigger contamination fears or other OCD-related concerns. The pressure to conform to the routines of life in halls can be stressful for someone who relies on specific rituals to manage their OCD symptoms.

The wider physical space can also be triggering; many new students are moving to a completely new city or town when they start university. In 2018/19 1.1 million full-time students in the UK, or 62%, lived away from home3.

Prior to starting university, those living with OCD may want to research their university’s mental health support. Accessing appropriate support services could be vital for students with OCD. Many universities offer counselling and mental health resources, but there can be stigma surrounding mental health, which may deter students from seeking help. It’s important for universities to create an inclusive and supportive environment where students feel comfortable discussing their mental health needs and accessing the assistance they require.

With an estimated 57% of students reporting that they are living with mental health issues, it is crucial that universities offer mental health support to those in need. Despite this, a reported 1 in 4 students surveyed would not know where to go to get mental health support at university if they needed it4.

In the face of these challenges, resilience and coping strategies become invaluable tools. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one method for managing OCD and can be particularly helpful for students. Learning to identify triggers, challenge irrational thoughts, and gradually expose oneself to anxiety-inducing situations can empower students to take control of their OCD rather than letting it control them.

Building a support network is equally crucial. Friends, flatmates, lecturers, and mental health professionals can all play a role in providing understanding, encouragement, and assistance.

Here at MAC, we are committed to improving the quality of life for people living with OCD and creating safe environments where non-judgemental and objective discussions can happen between trained healthcare professionals and people living with OCD.

We are currently investigating a medication that is thought to target a different signalling pathway in the brain to current OCD treatments, which may help to control obsessive or compulsive behaviours. With your participation, you may be able to contribute to scientific research, which may lead to a new medicine to help people living with OCD.

The trial is taking place at MAC clinics in Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Staffordshire, South Yorkshire, Teesside, and West Yorkshire.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be aged between 18 and 65 years old.
  • Have had OCD or OCD symptoms for at least 1 year.
  • Feel that your current OCD medication (antidepressant) is not fully working.

Eligible participants will receive up to £490 for their time and commitment to the study, along with reasonable travel costs. If the treatment works, you may be allowed to continue taking it (open-label extension) for up to 48 weeks. For more information on how you can get involved, visit our OCD Research page.

1 NHS Inform – Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

2 Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Thriving in Friendships When You Have OCD

3 House of Commons Library – Student Accommodation FAQs

4 Student Minds – Student Minds Research Briefing – February ‘23

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