Twice the rate of OCD than Christians!

Why Are Muslims More Likely to Suffer From OCD?

Part 2

In the first part of this article, the counselor gave examples of 2 cases that suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD).

In this part, she will analyze the mentioned cases and explain more about the different types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.

The obsessive-compulsive symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.

In Ahmed’s case, it was detected as he had Hypochondrias type OCD.  Persistent visits to numerous doctors to check for cancer (a brain tumor) were eventually flagged in the system for him having a possible mental health illness.

Part of the OCD complex is about being responsible (fear of not being responsible) and being in control (lack of control).  It seemed apparent to Ahmed, that by seeking out numerous doctors, tests and opinions, (despite all physicians coming up with the same diagnosis), that he was being responsible and that he was in control of his fear (brain tumor).

However, this excessive behavior reduced his anxiety only to an extent.  As a resident medical student, Ahmed’s OCD may be addressed as due to social and career constraints.

On the other hand, Fatimah, who suffered from Checking Behavior type OCD, will likely go on for years suffering from her OCD. Checking behavior is not that apparent unless the person lives with someone who notices the excessive behaviors. Or if it begins to severely interfere with her schooling or job.

Different types of OCD

There are many types of OCD and each serves a purpose relating to an initial thought. Some are related to fears of-

  • becoming ill
  • violence
  • sexual behaviors
  • germs
  • irresponsibility and so forth

The action or act to reduce the ensuing anxiety as well as avoidance behaviors are all part of the OCD. These actions are such as

  • washing one’s hands 20 times a day
  • checking something repeatedly, such as if the oven was left on
  • counting up to a certain number
  • passing through a door way an exact number of times repeatedly before finally going through
  • organizing your desk (not wanting to, but having to organize it to reduce anxiety) until everything is symmetrical, and looks “just right”

On the inside

OCD produces both thoughts/images and actions/behaviors. Intrusive thoughts or images can include:

  • thoughts about making mistakes
  • harming someone
  • contamination
  • disease
  • religious preoccupation
  • fears of impulses or desires
  • just about anything that you might consider dangerous, disgusting or dirty

Examples of obsessions are:

  • “I made a mistake at work and it will blow up on me”
  • “The chair I touched is contaminated”
  • “I had a violent fantasy and now I will lose control”
  • “The gas – I left it on!”
  • “I did something that God will punish me for”

Once you have the intrusive thought, you begin looking for more examples of these thoughts.

Most people with OCD realize that their obsessions are not based in reality. Still, they only find relief in their compulsions or rituals.  Getting up and sitting down repeatedly at the dinner table, until the “just right” feeling is reached is one such ritual. This is not an action that people normally do. Thus, the person with OCD realizes that this ritual of trying to find a “comfort zone” in this manner is irrational, yet they cannot prevent themselves from doing it.

Where’s the fine line?

There is often a fine line between thought/behaviors and OCD.  For example, someone who likes a clean home may spend several hours cleaning it. Someone who is orderly and dislikes clutter may ensure everything is in it’s proper place and looks orderly; someone who works in the health care profession may wash their hands many times a day.

However, numerous reports state that the determining factors which “cross the fine line” prior to a DSM-5 diagnosis, are that the frequency increases, the actions cannot be comfortably stopped or thoughts have become increasingly bizarre.

While OCD is not a new disorder, it appears to some therapists that there is an increase in OCD diagnoses. Beyond OCD states: “There were no consumer books written about OCD until the late 1980s.  Until relatively recently, information was not readily available on the Internet. And just decades ago, research on OCD was virtually nonexistent.

As a result, few tools were available to help professionals understand OCD. Given the lack of information in the past for professionals as well as consumers, OCD remains consistent in its prevalence. However, we may be hearing more about it in recent decades, as its clinical presentation is better understood. Further, studies on OCD and etiology show that OCD may run in families (genetic) and it may be biologically based.

TeensHealth reports that 3 in 100 people have OCD. They also reported that the flow of serotonin in the brain may be blocked, causing misinformation which leads to fears, doubts and false alarms.  Additionally, “imaging studies of the brain have shown that people with OCD have different patterns of brain activity than people without OCD”.

Muslims are more likely to suffer

As research on OCD is relatively new in comparison with major disorders (i.e. major depressive disorder) we have much to learn about its etiology.  Of special interest for Muslims, due to the rise in Islamophobia, is the possibility of environmental factors and OCD.

Regarding environmental factors, there are various proposed factors, but not yet concrete theories, on what triggers dormant OCD in predisposed individuals.  These include major stress, traumatic life events, family dynamics, depression, even illness. In some cases, it’s arguable, depression and illness are a direct cause of one’s environment, thus it is included in possible factors.

Research studies found that Muslims had twice the rate of OCD than their Christian counterparts.  Ritualistic upbringing and scrupulosity was a hypothesized reason for the difference.  However, if the proposed environmental factors are taken into consideration, one must also look at the socio-political stressors and traumatic events that are going on worldwide concerning Muslims.

When examining these factors, we can easily see Islamophobia, racism, displacement, poverty, war torn countries, occupations, mass media slander and fear mongering, failure to be accepted in new countries of immigration; rejection in countries wherein one was born; lack of  opportunity due to religious beliefs and so forth.

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About Aisha Mohammad
Aisha received her PhD in psychology in 2000 and an MS in public health in 2009. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years for Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. Aisha specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marriage/relationships issues, as well as community-cultural dynamics. She is certified in Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and is also a certified Life Coach. Aisha works at a Family Resource Center, and has a part-time practice in which she integrates healing and spirituality using a holistic approach. Aisha plans to open a holistic care counseling center for Muslims and others in the New York area in the future, in sha' Allah. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocate for social & food justice. In her spare time she enjoys her family, martial arts classes, Islamic studies as well as working on her book and spoken word projects.