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Old 04-28-05, 04:45 PM
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OU attempts to relieve stress of OCD students

by Ellie Behling
Culture Senior Writer

The other night, Keith Miller stayed up late making sure his clothes were on the correct hangers and was not able to make it to his 9 a.m. class.

Miller, a freshman psychiatry major, is one of the 3.3 million American adults suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, making it the most common mental health disorder after depression.

The average age for OCD onset is 22, but symptoms often begin during childhood or adolescence.

Miller did not find out he had OCD until the beginning of last quarter. He was not aware that anything he did was obsessive until his therapist at Hudson pointed it out to him.

"There's certainly people who get it as an adult, but it is one of the disorders that does appear more commonly in childhood (than other mental disorders)," said Dr. Jack Hettema, who heads a clinic for anxiety disorders at Virginia Commonwealth University. Somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of the population is at the baseline risk for getting the disease, he said.

Miller said he tends to worry about some kind of terrible disaster befalling him or how things are going in his relationships -both very characteristic of someone with OCD.

"Mostly my compulsions come through touching and counting," Miller said. He likes things to be symmetrical and often stays up late making sure things are just right. "Night's my No. 1 enemy. You have a lot of free time to think about everything at night."

A first-degree relative with OCD quadruples the risk for acquiring it, Hettema said. OCD is a genetic illness like other illnesses such as hyperactivity or diabetes, but there is no clear-cut inheritance pattern.

Living with OCD is especially a burden for college students because they are living among peers instead of family members for the first time, Hettema said. Levels of stress can either exacerbate or precipitate OCD for the first time.

The more severe forms of OCD are not as typical in college students because they likely cannot function at college, said Jeanne Heaton, director of mental health services at Hudson Health Center.

"We seem to be a very small population on campus," Miller said.

OCD is one of the hardest anxiety disorders to treat, with a response rate of 50 percent or less, Hettema said. Hudson offers treatment with medication or cognitive-behavior therapy -two of the most common treatments for most anxiety disorders.

Almost everyone seems to have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Miller said. But his No. 1 pet peeve is when people diagnose themselves with OCD or Attention Deficit Disorder.

"It makes it kind of a problem because then people don't realize the actual severity of the problem," Miller said. "It makes people with the actual problems find it much more difficult. It kind of takes the potency out of the word."

Miller was diagnosed with ADD when he was very young but was never treated for the disease.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder -although not an anxiety disorder -often has commonalities with anxiety disorders, Hettema said. People with OCD also have high rates of other anxiety disorders, depression and tick disorders, such as Tourette's.

The largest difference between OCD and obsessive-compulsive personality traits are that people with the full-blown disorder know that something is wrong, Hettema said. They might or might not have more obsessions and compulsions.

Miller said people think he's gotten better when his room is messy, but that is far from the truth. "I like things to be in good order or no order at all," he said.

Students with OCD can register at the Office of Institutional Equity and can have accommodations just like with any other psychological disorder.

Test-taking is often a problem for students with OCD, said Dr. Yegan Pillay. "They end up taking much longer to complete their exam, with the result that when they come to the end of the exam they are pressed for time."

Living arrangements are also a problem for many students, especially when students with OCD have roommates who are not diligent about picking up after themselves. Sometimes people with OCD hoard things such as Taco Bell sauces or spoons, and their roommates don't understand.

The office works closely with the housing department and can arrange for students with OCD to live in singles or in a medical room.
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