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OCD symptoms in teens – What to look for

It’s not uncommon for teens to express anxiety or worry, especially during the transitional phases of puberty. But, when these worries stem from untrue beliefs and form the root of excessive worrying and repeat behaviours, there is a chance that they may be displaying symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, better known as OCD. 

In such cases, early identification and diagnosis can make a significant impact on how much support can be provided to teens with OCD — the sooner the signs and symptoms of OCD in teens are recognised, the sooner they will be able to receive the appropriate treatment and support to better manage the condition. 

Common OCD symptoms in teens 

Most of the time, signs of OCD in teens are split between “obsessions” and “compulsions”, with the former involving persistent thoughts or feelings, and the latter relating to ritual-like behaviours. 

Examples of obsessive thoughts can include:

  • Anxiety about germs, sickness, or mortality.
  • Trusting in superstitions to ward off misfortune.
  • Intrusive and distressing sexual thoughts or images.
  • Concerns about inadvertently causing harm to others, such as while driving.
  • Intense apprehension about negative outcomes or making mistakes.
  • Obsessions with perfection or things not meeting specific standards.
  • Feeling unwarranted responsibility for unfortunate events in the past.

ocd symptoms teens

Such thoughts when combined with the following examples of compulsive behaviour are often a sign of OCD in teens:

  • Repeatedly checking on something.
  • Frequent washing or cleaning, including repetitive hand-washing or excessive showering.
  • Excessively seeking reassurance.
  • Organising items in a particular manner and constantly rearranging them to match the ‘proper’ position. 
  • Overly confessing or apologising.
  • Speaking lucky words or numbers aloud.

How common is OCD among teens?

It is estimated that OCD occurs in one out of every 50 Australian children, with symptoms gradually becoming more prominent between the ages of 19 and 35. Research has found that OCD is more common in male children and teens, compared to females. 

Understanding OCD symptoms in teens

It’s important to understand the reasons why teens with OCD behave the way they do. From their perspective, the specific, compulsive behaviours they exhibit are necessary to prevent bad things from happening or will make them feel better. 

Of course, the feelings and thoughts they have do not typically result in danger or something bad. It’s similar to having a false alarm being triggered in their minds for certain situations – while they feel the need to do something, the reality is not as bad as they think. 

There’s also a common myth that OCD only refers to being meticulous or orderly. While this can be true in some cases, not all OCD symptoms in teens involve being organised. 



Who can diagnose OCD in teens?

In Australia, only certified psychologists and other medical professionals are qualified to diagnose OCD in teens. If you are a parent or guardian who has noticed your teenager displaying behaviours consistent with the signs and symptoms of OCD outlined above, you may consider getting a professional diagnosis for your teen. 

When should we seek treatment for OCD? 

Teenagers with OCD will often face many difficulties and challenges in their lives and development due to the compulsions and mental health concerns they experience. If your teen has been diagnosed with OCD, you should try to seek effective treatment for them as soon as possible. With consistent treatment and support, teens with OCD can be equipped with the right management strategies to deal with their symptoms, as well as receive tailored psychotherapy. 

At CFHP, we have a team of psychologists specialising in treating teens and adolescents, as well as in OCD counselling, treatment and support. Contact us today to book a session with our OCD psychologists in Brisbane to find the right support for your teen. 

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