bullying and ocd

Coping with Bullying and OCD

Table of Contents

Bullying and OCD can have a complex relationship with one another, and it’s one worth exploring. There are, for example, indicators that children with OCD are more likely to experience bullying. Bullying can also make symptoms worse for some children and teens.

The following is a guide to OCD and how bullying can have an impact.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental health disorder affecting people of all ages. A series of obsessions and compulsions characterize this disorder, diagnosable by a health professional. 

  • An obsession is an unwanted and intrusive thought or image that’s very distressing to the person experiencing it. 
  • A compulsion is a behavior that someone engages in as they try to get rid of the obsessions or lower their level of distress.
  • It’s normal for all of us to experience obsessions and compulsions throughout our lives on an occasional basis. That doesn’t mean we all have OCD.
  • For a diagnosis of OCD, the cycle has to be intense and extreme to the point it’s time-consuming and interferes with other things in the impacted person’s life.

Common obsessions can include those that relate to contamination, like germs or disease, violent obsessions, or religious and moral obsessions. Often obsessions relate to perfectionism as well. For example, someone might be obsessed with things being exact and even or with performing a task perfectly.

Compulsions are rituals that someone does to try and counteract, eliminate or neutralize their obsessions, such as washing their hands excessively or checking that nothing terrible happened. Putting things in a certain order or counting while performing a task are compulsions.

OCD is often characterized as one type of anxiety disorder. Other anxiety disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children

Most children have occasional thoughts that are bothersome to them, like adults. When a child’s thoughts and compulsive behaviors take up more than an hour a day, make them very upset, or interfere with activities, it could warrant a diagnosis of OCD.

Like adults, children do compulsive behaviors because they want to make themselves feel better or they hope they’ll prevent something bad from happening. The behavior isn’t attached to an actual danger of something bad happening or it’s extreme in cases of OCD.

OCD doesn’t always have to relate to things being neat, orderly, or clean. Instead, the behaviors are focused on any one thing a child has to do repeatedly.

Teens with OCD

Teens tend to face unique stressful situations that can lead to debilitating symptoms when they are already predisposed to OCD. Some of the specific challenges teens with OCD may face include:

  • When someone has OCD, they already accept that their thoughts bring uncertainty and distress. Then, teens are also experiencing often for the first time issues of romantic relationships, their social status, body changes, and sexual identity. Teens are beginning to develop their moral and religious identity and take on more personal responsibility. All of these are things that also bring uncertainty and can create more opportunities for obsessions to arise.
  • While OCD is considered a treatable disorder, no one wants to be labeled mentally ill but especially not in the teen years. This is one reason why bullying and OCD can become problematic. Cognitive-behavioral therapy tends to work very well for symptoms of OCD. Still, teens may be hesitant to seek treatment, thinking it will solidify the label of being mentally ill.
  • Teens may appear to be withdrawn or keep to themselves when they have OCD because they are internally dealing with their symptoms. It can be difficult to know what might constitute symptoms of a mental health disorder and what’s “normal” in a teenager.

Are Teens with OCD More Likely to Experience Bullying?

Yes! Research shows children and teens with OCD are three times more likely to experience the impact of bullying than other kids. The relationship between bullying and OCD might lead some symptoms of the mental disorder to get worse.

According to researchers, in kids and teens with OCD, there’s an impairment in peer relationships in many cases. Some of this comes from the fact that kids with OCD show behaviors that their peers can’t understand.

In one study, more than ¼ of kids with OCD studied by researchers reported experiencing OCD and school bullying or peer bullying on a chronic basis. Researchers also uncovered links between emotional and physical bullying and other issues, including depression and loneliness. Some kids who experience bullying internalize the comments from their peers.

A young person with OCD and a co-occurring condition like depressive disorder can worsen their symptoms. That could be one reason there appears to be a link between chronic bullying and more severe OCD symptoms.

Can Bullying Cause OCD?

There are links between childhood trauma and the development of mental health conditions, including OCD. That doesn’t necessarily mean that bullying alone causes the obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Instead, based on current research, it does appear that experiencing bullying as a young person is one factor that can contribute to the development of symptoms of the mental health disorder.

When you go through bullying, you are put in a situation you don’t have much control over. You don’t feel safe in certain situations, such as school. When you feel limited control over your situation, it can trigger mental health symptoms.

The experiences of bullying and a history of trauma are also associated with a greater risk of developing substance use disorders to help feel more control over one’s life or self-medicate symptoms.

OCD Treatment for Teens in Orange County California

Whether a child is experiencing bullying and OCD symptoms or isn’t going through bullying, the best thing to do is seek out treatment. As discussed, OCD is considered treatable, and you can help your child or teen get their symptoms under control.

Therapy is the primary treatment for children and teens with OCD.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful in treating OCD and other mental health problems.
  • Another option is exposure and response prevention (ERP), a subtype of CBT. With ERP, patients face their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, challenging their responses with the guidance of an experienced OCD therapist.
  • When someone goes through ERP, it can help with the fallout of the long-term effects of bullying because they learn they’re in control of their thoughts and behaviors. ERP can help young people learn to face fears slowly and gradually as they develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • With OCD, medicine isn’t usually the first-line treatment, but if CBT or ERP aren’t sufficiently treating symptoms, medication may be another option.

If your child is dealing with OCD or symptoms or other psychiatric disorders, contact the Hillside Horizon for Teens team to learn about our age-appropriate treatment programs, just call 855-475-0651.