Advice for teachers – spotting the signs of OCD

There are currently around 130,000 young people at school in the UK with OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterised by unpleasant and recurring thoughts, images, doubts or urges (called obsessions) and repetitive and/or irrational behaviours (called compulsions).

There are currently around 130,000 young people at school in the UK with OCD. Many try to hide their upsetting symptoms, frightened about what would happen if they opened up to their friends or a teacher, or embarrassed about how they might be perceived.

OCD can affect many areas of a young person’s life, including school life. It is important to remember that OCD affects people in many ways however some of the signs that you may observe in school include:

  • Poor attention and concentration due to distraction from unwanted thoughts or the need to perform rituals
  • Extreme tiredness due to being up late at night doing rituals or the overall exhaustion caused by the constant battle with OCD
  • Frequent or prolonged toilet visits due to completing cleaning rituals
  • An inability to touch objects, materials or other people due to possible contamination fears
  • Excessive questioning and need for reassurance
  • Messy work due to having to repeat rituals such as rewriting or erasing words
  • Repeated lateness as a result of being delayed by rituals
  • Late handing in work due to being slowed down by obsessions and/or compulsions
  • Arranging items on a desk, shelf or classroom so that objects are aligned
  • Repetitive behaviours such as getting up and down from a desk or opening and closing the door
  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Low self esteem and difficulty with peer relationships
  • Reduction in grades or decline in school performance

OCD is sometimes seen alongside other disorders such as depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and Tourette Syndrome.

Exhibiting OCD behaviours is not the same as having OCD, and a diagnosis of OCD can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional. However, teachers are in a good position to be able to spot the symptoms and ensure that children with OCD get the support they need.

If you feel that a young person may have OCD then it is usually a good idea to share these concerns with the student’s parents, in accordance with your school protocol.  If the child is subsequently diagnosed with OCD, progress is more likely to be made if school staff are able to work with the young person, their parents and therapist to agree on how to provide appropriate support.

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