Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a well-known mental health condition, but for many years it has been one that’s easily misunderstood. This is partly due to the way it is often portrayed in media and partly due to a lack of knowledge. Fortunately, we now understand that OCD is an actual mental disorder. However, much is still unknown as to its causes. Over the years, blame has been placed on environmental factors such as stress and parenting styles. But no research has ever shown that stress or the way a person interacted with his or her parents during childhood causes OCD. Stress can, however, be a factor in triggering OCD in someone who is predisposed to it, and OCD symptoms can worsen in times of severe stress.
In speaking of this predisposition, researchers have recently discovered genetic risk factors for OCD that could help pave the way for earlier diagnosis and improved treatment for children and youth. Dr. Paul Arnold, professor and director of The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education at the Cumming School of Medicine in Toronto, stated the following:
“Our group made the first finding of a genome-wide significant risk gene relevant to childhood OCD. We’ve known that OCD runs in families, but we hadn’t identified and validated specific genetic risks of OCD symptoms in children and youth until now.”
After looking across millions of genetic variants from the saliva samples, the team identified that children and youth with a genetic variant in the gene PTPRD had a greater risk for more obsessive-compulsive traits. The findings are published in Translational Psychiatry.
Dr. Christie Burton, PhD, lead author and research associate in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program at SickKids (partnering in this study), stated that discovering the genes involved in OCD is critical to help improve patients’ lives. “This type of research is still in the early stages, but the hope is these findings will lead us to understand the causes of OCD, which in turn could help identify people with OCD sooner and develop better treatments.”
Included in this article is an account of a young man, going by the name of Sam. Sam has OCD, and seems to be doing well with his current therapy and medication. However, our current treatments don’t have the same effects on all patients with OCD. In fact, few patients experience complete remission of symptoms despite available treatments. There is an urgent need for conceptually novel pharmacological strategies to improve treatment outcomes for those patients who demonstrate only a partial response to therapy or prove to be highly treatment resistant. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2993523/
In speaking about Sam, he is 17 years old, and lives with OCD. With therapy and medication, he says he has been able to face his obsessions and compulsions, ride out the anxiety and control his actions. Looking back at his childhood, Sam says he had some OCD tendencies as early as elementary school, but neither he nor his family realized he had a mental health condition. The researchers hope that by understanding the genetics of OCD they can develop better treatments, improve outcomes and diagnose young people like Sam earlier.
In Sam’s words, “At first I wasn’t sure what to do with the diagnosis, it was very foreign, I didn’t want to perceive myself as having a mental health issue. But, knowing I have OCD helped me overcome the challenges. With therapy and medication, I’ve stopped OCD from overtaking my life and taken back control.”
Sam is a real teenager, but Sam isn’t his real name. He says due to the stigma around OCD he would prefer to remain anonymous.
I find this real story of a young man living with OCD to be very revealing in regard to the state of affairs of our mental health crisis as it speaks to a major roadblock; stigma. Sam is helping by offering his story, but still feels he needs to remain anonymous. This is a major roadblock. If the public was made aware of the the genetic role involved in OCD and other mental health diseases, more people may willingly come forward to tell their stories without feeling ashamed and stigmatized Why? Because mental health conditions would be treated as brain diseases, which they are, and not personality weaknesses or character flaws. And, in response, the fight for genetic research would be strengthened. Then, we can really make changes to help those suffering.