Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Student Fact Sheet

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Student Fact Sheet

For many, going to university is usually the first experience of living away from home. As is well documented, for people with OCD, stress can cause symptoms to become worse. The student lifestyle can be very demanding and emotionally stressful, and this is one reason why OCD often becomes its most severe for some during those uni years.
We have put together this page to hopefully help you manage your OCD that little bit better.
Use the support services offered by your uni

Students are offered a range of support services through the ‘Student Union’, a package partially funded by your tuition fees, including a professional ‘counselling team’, who act in a private and sensitive manner aware of mental health issues and the impact on the sufferer. Contact your local student union to make an appointment and talk about your feelings to someone who will supportively listen with understanding. While the counselling team may not be qualified to treat your OCD they will still help you cope with student life.

Exemptions and extensions
If you find it difficult completing your workload within the set deadlines, you maybe eligible for extensions, extra time in exams and other special exemptions. You can explore this further by talking in confidence to your tutor. Alongside their personal experiences, the teaching staff is well aware of the demands faced by students in higher education. As in any workplace, stress plays a factor in productivity, and OCD can cut back the effectiveness in studying.

Managing stress
The student lifestyle can be very demanding, considering the limited funds, the amount of coursework and lectures, part-time work, housekeeping, alongside leisure and socialising. With the extra burden of OCD to handle, living independently whilst in full time education increases self-demands and expectations. Fitting everyday tasks around OCD results in physical and mental stress, which again leads to difficulty coping with OCD demons, feeding a ‘vicious cycle’ of stress and OCD. There is a limit to what a human being can tolerate stress-wise. Managing aspects of everyday life in a healthy way can reduce stress despite the presence of OCD. Management often is an empty word for those whose lifestyles are run with seemingly little effort and stress. For OCD sufferers, however, everyday tasks are not as straightforward due to the interference of OCD with its ‘bundles of symptoms’, from acute anxiety and panic attacks, secret compulsive behaviour, evasive low self esteem, perfectionism, to indecision.
The intrusion of OCD can easily lead to the neglect of personal care and interest due to its ‘demeaning’ nature. Therefore:

  • Firstly, ‘be kind to yourself’! Remember, you have a mental health disorder, and hence your thinking ability and emotions are disordered of no fault of your own.
  • Looking after yourself through a healthy balance of ‘food, sleep and exercise’ will help provide the care and strength needed to cope with the stress generated by OCD.
  • When the intrusion of OCD is extreme, don’t force yourself into uncomfortable circumstances. As it is with any illness, there is a limit to how much stress you can (and are expected to) handle. Pre-awareness will help avoid these situations and reduce stress. You will have your own routine and approach to personal care. Remember, ‘no one is the same’ in how they handle their challenges. Achievement and success goes hand in hand with looking after your mental health, so find and respect your limits!
  • The support of friends and family can take the burden of the secrecy involved with OCD. Often, stress is caused by not being able to do what is desired, due to the anxiety OCD causes. Continuously making excuses is frustrating. Emotional support or expressing your feelings to someone trusted can help reduce the stress of keeping this disappointment inside. Taking this step is not easy, but the OCD-UK website can break down the barriers of understanding and explanation.

University is THE opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures, or find good friends for life. But making friends or finding a people who you can relate to is difficult for everyone. OCD or not, it takes time to build new friendships. Remember, initially everyone is starting out fresh, with same questions and insecurities, even if they don’t show it! No one is superhuman! OCD sufferers commonly feel isolated, being self-conscious about their behaviour being different, perhaps even ‘weird’ to others. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour can potentially be misunderstood or misinterpreted as ‘negative’ or ‘rude’ due to the secrecy and discomfort acted out. However, many people will be unaware of it, because they are too busy dealing with their own insecurities, or disregard OCD behaviour as what they feel is ‘normal’ behaviour. Worrying what other people may perceive as ‘normal’ or unnoticeable will act as an initial barrier to any type of socialising. Everyone is different, so be proud of who you are! If you are comfortable with yourself, so will other people. Once settled in a social group, you will be more comfortable about people becoming aware of your OCD and any issues affecting a relationship. If they are your friends, they will accept you with your OCD.

The Student Union has many societies for different tastes and interests, offering a chance to meet other students, so have a look! Don’t feel you are alone even if your social circle is small or limited, as independent living can feel like this for anyone. You may feel more dependent on others, but it is likely that many others will, unnoticed by you, feel that way to.
It’s very easy to hyperventilate or unknowingly hold the breath when panic sets in. When feeling uncomfortable in a social situation, become aware of your breathing. Regulate it with slow deep breathing through the nose, fill the chest and exhale out of the mouth.

It can be quite tempting to seek relief from OCD and other mental health problems through recreational drinking and drug consumption. Be aware that using these substances will offer only a short term fix and usually the next morning the OCD will be even worse. The only way of combating OCD long term is professional medical treatment.

Disabled students' allowances (DSAs)

Students suffering from OCD may not be aware that they may qualify for extra funding through Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs).

Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) provide help for students who, because of their disability, have additional costs. It is available to full- and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students. Part-time students must be studying at least 50 per cent of a full-time course. An assessment will be carried out by an experienced assessor to find out the level of support you are eligible for. You may need to have a supporting GP's report.

The money you may get from DSA does not count as 'income' so you may still qualify for Income Support or Housing Benefit, should you do need to apply.

You can contact your LEA in England and Wales and SAAS if you are in Scotland for further information.

This leaflet was kindly written for StudentHealth.co.uk by www.ocduk.org


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