Feb 02, 2012, 11:59 IST | Sudeshna Chowdhury

It could be a recurring thought or a fetish for cleanliness or an obsession for a number. Patients suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) along with their family members form support groups to deal with their condition better

It could be a recurring thought or a fetish for cleanliness or an obsession for a number. Patients suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) along with their family members form support groups to deal with their condition better

Bhupesh Patel from Badlapur met with an accident six months ago. It was a minor accident. Though Patel was not severely injured, the accident left a scar on his chin. Since then Patel has been losing sleep over his scar.

Cameron Diaz

Patel's mother, Manju, initially thought that he was possessed and took him to a baba. Said Manju, "We took him to various babas, but to no avail. We visited quacks, but that too didn't help." Patel even went to a cosmetic surgeon to get a surgery done on his face and get the scar removed. "The surgeon told me that the scar was hardly visible, but I insisted. The doctor refused to comply and referred me to his friend, who happened to be a psychiatrist. On his advice, I met Dr Fabian Almeida, a psychiatrist in Matunga who told me that I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)." Three months ago, Patel started his psychiatric treatment under Dr Almeida. Said Patel, "Earlier, I kept thinking about my scar.

David Beckham Pics/Getty Images, AFP

I lost my appetite, sleep and peace of mind. Not only me, my family members too were worried. It is only after I started taking medicines and attending counselling sessions that my condition improved. My anxiety is now under control." Apart from medicines and counselling sessions, first Saturday of every month, Dr Almeida organizes a group meeting in Matunga, for those suffering with OCD.

Support: Dr Fabian Almeida speaks about OCD at a support group
meeting at Don Bosco school, Matunga (E). Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

In an interactive session, the group consisting of OCD patients and their family members discuss their problems with each other. "It often happens that one doesn't even realise that he/she is suffering from OCD. Many consider that mental illness is some sort of a taboo and hence avoid seeking help from psychiatrists. Most of the time family members and friends fail to understand the anguish and isolation of those who are mentally ill. During such sessions, OCD patients interact with each other and get to know their problems. They realise that there are people who suffer with similar problems and that it can be controlled," said Almeida, who has been organizing such sessions for the past two years at the Youth Services building at Don Bosco School in Matunga.

Michael Pinto, an OCD patient from Mira Road, said, "When I met other patients, I realised that I'm not alone in this 'battle' and there are many like me who are fighting a common enemy. I feel more confident now." Pinto had an obsession when it came to buying new clothes. "I would buy new clothes and refuse to wear them. I would either bin them or give them away. I would shudder even at the thought of buying things from the market. My wife would do most of the shopping for me." Pinto didn't know the reason for his eccentric behaviour. He sought psychiatric help and was diagnosed with OCD. Since then Pinto has been under medication.

OCD Symptoms
> If a person performs various repetitive behaviours like repeating a certain number or he/she is obsessed with cleaning
> If a person seems to be unusually quiet and withdrawn
> If a person is over aggressive
> Depression
> Restlessness

One of the oldest members of the support group is 65-year-old Manju Jadhav. "I was scared of sweets and would refuse to eat anything that was sweet. I love gulab jamun, but I wouldn't eat any. I used to feel that I would fall ill if I had anything sweet. I started worrying about my health and eventually went into depression," said Jadhav. One of the youngest members of the group, Amit Shah from Vasai is currently preparing for his MBA entrance examinations. Shah's OCD is now under control, but he says a few months ago, his condition was "pathetic." It was Shah's mother, who took him to a psychiatrist for treatment. "I just needed a reason to worry. Initially, when I was about 10, I used to wash my hands about 30 times a day. I wanted to be a perfectionist. I was academically very bright. Inspite of preparing well for my papers, I would feel that my preparation was not up to the mark. I would skip class tests. I just needed a reason to worry and it was killing me from inside." Worrying had become an obsession, says Shah.

Anna D'Souza, another patient shares her ordeal, "I used to love dancing and partying. All that changed, when I fell while dancing and broke my femur bone. My husband too was not well. That is when I started worrying about his health and my health. I started going into depression. This support group helps me to meet people, where I can openly discuss about my problem and people are not judgmental." For Indira Gupta, living with OCD has been a painful experience. Gupta has a bad toothache but refuses to visit a dentist. "I got a vertigo attack on a dentist's chair. From then on I have been avoiding any treatment as I fear that I would get a similar attack when I visit a doctor," said Gupta.

Psychiatrists say that OCD can also lead to stress and depression, which can trigger other physical ailments. The main problem is that sometimes people don't even know that they have OCD. Said Almeida, "The aim of such support groups is to spread the word about the condition. Health of body is important. Health of mind is equally important." He further added, "There are three different stages of OCD -- mild, moderate and severe. Severe OCD can become mild; mild can become severe. The condition of the patient can vary. OCD is directly proportional to stress. Unlike other diseases or conditions, where you can get rid of the problem, there is no complete cure for OCD." 

Dr Rahul Ghadge, a psychiatrist too organises group sessions every Saturday at his clinic in Opera House . Recalls Ghadge, "It is imbalance of serotonin  (a neurotransmitter) that causes OCD and obsessions can get worse. I remember this patient, who worked in Andheri and used to stay in Kalyan. At 1 am he took the last train from Kalyan station and came all the way to Andheri just to check if he had locked his drawer."

Many experts feel that level of awareness, as far as OCD is concerned, has increased over a period of time. Said Dr Henal Shah, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry, Nair hospital, "More people are open to seek psychiatric help. Along with medication, OCD patients need behavioural and cognitive behavioural therapy for their condition, where we talk to the patients and make them aware of their condition. In terms of support group there is a lot that needs to be done. Unlike in the US, where support groups are common, in India unfortunately you don't have many."

Concurs Dr Hozefa A Bhinderwala, psychiatrist at Saifee Hospital, "Overall, the situation has improved. Infact, a lot of people with OCD have a fetish for cleanliness. This is particularly seen in people where ablutions form an integral part of their religious practices. So, these people spend hours cleaning themselves up before offering prayers to their God. Such people end up spending more than an hour for a ritual, which should take maximum ten minutes. In extreme cases, people spend hours in bathroom. I had this patient, who would spend minimum five hours inside the bathroom. He would clean the floor, the walls, the basins everything before taking a bath." There could be various triggers for OCD. "This could be genetic, circumstantial or organic, which can arise due to an injury, etcetera," said Bhinderwala, who even wrote a song for those suffering from OCD. "During the mental health week, last year, I had written this song. I often use the song as a part of the therapy. I believe, mental health to a large extent is not being acknowledged in our country. It needs to be dealt with far more attention and seriousness." Although awareness level has increased, there are many cases, when patients abstain from treatment inspite of knowing that there is something wrong with their behaviour. Said Dr Dilip K Deshmukh, psychiatrist at Lilavati hospital, "When it comes to washing hands or fascination with certain digits, patients can easily discuss these problems with doctors. Sometimes people have obsessions when it comes to their sexual behaviour and personal relations, that is when they don't want to discuss about their problems and shun medical help."

However, many experts feel like other ailments, OCD too needs a medical approach and support groups may not be of much help. Said Dr Nilesh Shah, HOD, Psychiatry, Sion Hospital, "Family support can help a long away when it comes to dealing with OCD. First of all, recognition of the problem is important. OCD patients have to learn to live with it. The purpose of medication is to keep it under control. I don't think support groups can help much. Unlike Alcoholic Anonymous Groups (AAG), where the aim is to try and keep alcoholics sober as long as possible, OCD is a condition and requires medical attention. The condition can be improved through psychiatric help. So such groups don't really serve the purpose."

> The names of patients and their family members have been changed to protect their identity
> If you want help, send a mail to A support group consisting of OCD patients meets on the first Saturday of every month. Meetings are held on the first floor of the Youth Services building at Don Bosco School, Matunga (E)

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