Overcoming OCD – One App at a Time

Kate Gilding

Marketing Manager

According to OCD UK, there are an estimated three quarters of a million people suffering from severe, debilitating and life-impacting Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in the UK alone. With referral waiting times for NHS mental health services, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), often being months long, health apps that can help sufferers manage their OCD whilst waiting for treatment are more necessary than ever. In support of OCD Week of Action, a campaign by OCD Action which runs from Monday 18th February to Sunday 24th February 2019, ORCHA would like to raise awareness of how digital health apps can help people affected by OCD.

ORCHA has reviewed over three hundred mental health apps, including those specifically catering to OCD, which can be searched for using our health app finder tool. These apps are assessed according to the ORCHA Review process, which analyses an app’s compliance with current standards, regulations and good practice, with apps that achieve a higher ORCHA score being the more compliant with these standards. In providing a consistent framework by which to assess health apps, the ORCHA Review process not only increases knowledge and awareness of the apps available, but also facilitates trust in digital health for both patients and healthcare professionals.

For sufferers of OCD, symptoms commonly include frequent intrusive and obsessive thoughts, in combination with repetitive compulsions. Although performing compulsions can bring some relief to the anxiety caused by the distressing, obsessive thoughts, such relief is temporary, with the obsessions frequently resurfacing in a debilitating manner. OCD can manifest itself in any number of guises, from excessive washing and cleaning, to rearranging objects until their position feels ‘just right’, worrying that a fire will start because of not having ‘properly’ checked that appliances are switched off, repeating words or movements, hoarding, fears that something terrible may happen to a loved one, or even thoughts of being the cause of harm (despite this being the last thing the person with OCD would ever want to do), and much, much more. There are specific types of OCD depending on the kind of obsessions and compulsions that occur, but sufferers can experience any combination of OCD symptoms, meaning that it is impossible to categorise all individual cases under restrictive headings.

Unwanted, obsessive thoughts, leading to compulsive actions, can take hours out of a sufferer’s day. Someone with a more extreme case of OCD may feel that it is impossible to switch off their intrusive thoughts, rendering them exhausted and sometimes despairing. Often, the sufferer is aware of the irrational nature of their obsessions and compulsions, but this awareness does not make their anxiety lessen. Instead, a person with OCD may feel shame and embarrassment at being unable to control their OCD, which can result in them trying to hide any outwardly visible compulsions. They might even avoid certain situations or specific activities in anticipation of their OCD becoming aggravated. This vicious cycle of fear and avoidance means that, according to OCD UK, there is often a delay of ten to fifteen years between someone first experiencing symptoms of OCD, and actually seeking help.

Imagine, then, that someone whose life has been impacted by OCD since childhood, has managed to overcome their personal shame and apprehension surrounding their OCD enough to finally go to their GP for help and diagnosis, only to discover that there is a six month plus waiting list for CBT. Perhaps not wishing to go down the route of medication, how, then, could this person find a way of coping with their OCD throughout the long wait for treatment?

Enter: health apps. The NOCD app is one of the multiple OCD apps that have been reviewed by ORCHA. Having achieved an ORCHA score of 61%, NOCD offers guidance and self-therapy options for people suffering with OCD. ORCHA’s review process allows people to make informed decisions about their own health by scoring health apps according to data privacy, clinical assurance and user experience, making it easy for users and health professionals to determine the effectiveness and trustworthiness of specific apps. Without people even needing to download the app, ORCHA’s Review increases the accessibility and clarity of information about different aspects of NOCD.

In the absence of ORCHA’s review, an OCD sufferer may refrain from downloading any health apps due to uncertainty about their effectiveness. In this sense, ORCHA enables those people waiting for CBT to access help in the interim, and moving into the future as they continue to manage their OCD. NOCD provides information on a variety of OCD-related topics; has an in-app community in which people can share their advice and experiences; and offers the opportunity to create a personal treatment plan, with exercises based around Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Whilst this app is not recommended as a replacement treatment to seeing a therapist and accessing CBT through the NHS, it can be effective in helping OCD sufferers track their obsessions, compulsions and thought patterns. Not only can this be useful for people trying to understand their OCD better in preparation for eventual therapy, it can also help people generate their own methods of coping with OCD, at a pace which suits the individual. Further, NOCD’s in-app community creates a support network at the user’s fingertips. Finding and connecting with other people who understand OCD can contribute to recovery by helping the sufferer to see that they are not alone in their struggle.

OCD can control people’s lives. Through using digital health apps, those affected can start taking back some of that control. ORCHA’s Solution helps to empower patients in this way by increasing awareness, access and trust of health apps. Whether you suffer from OCD yourself, know someone who does, or are a healthcare professional looking to improve the wellbeing of your patients, ORCHA’s searchable health app library provides a trusted way of discovering the best OCD apps amongst hundreds of other health apps. Health apps can’t promise a cure-all solution for OCD or other health problems, but they can definitely be a great help.