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I don't know exactly how to explain my family's current situation. We've looked everywhere for help, and nothing seems to work.

My little sister suffers from severe obsessive compulsive disorder. She has a deep fear of germs. She washes her hands until they bleed. She will not touch other people. She has a deep fear of using the restroom-so bad that she practically starves herself to avoid it. She must wear gloves in order to touch things. Small tasks, like homework occupy her entire life. She has a deep need to be "even". The other day, she cut herself shaving her legs, so she had to cut the other. Little by little, her rituals keep growing. As they grow, they keep taking a bigger toll on her life. She rarely laughs or smiles anymore. I feel like her OCD is overcoming her. I feel like I haven't seen or heard from my sister in years. Lately, she's been suicidal. She admitted to her councilor that she "had a note and a plan". I don't know how to help her. I'm completely desperate. She's my very best friend, and I can't stand to see her so completely miserable. It's tearing my family apart.

We've read books, seen councilors, even tried an outpatient day program. We try to talk about it as a family, but she keeps trying to hide it. Does anyone have any suggestions? Or does anyone else need to talk about their experience with OCD?

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Hi, and welcome. OCD is a very difficult and deceptively disabling condition. In addition to all the avoidance and compensation behaviors driven by the illness itself, there is often a lot of shame that people who live with this condition experience. And of course, as you have suggested, depression and suicidality sometimes.

It's great that you've been trying to help your sister, and also great that she has been in treatment. You mention a variety of interventions but not medication, which is frequently offered to patients with severe symptoms. Some of the medications psychiatrists may prescribe can lessen (but not generally eliminate) the symptoms and are worth exploring.

From a psychotherapeutic point of view there are several varieties of help available. There is supportive counseling as a general aide to coping. There is exposure therapy and variants which are designed to help habituation to occur - which enjoy some limited success for more focused problems. And then more recently, many therapy strategies are incorporating mindfulness, self-acceptance and awareness approaches as an aide to therapy. A variety of techniques are used to help people learn to have this state of mind. They are all closely related to mindfulness meditation, which can be pursued outside of psychotherapy proper too. So, your sister might look into exploring these modes of therapy help too if she has not already.

And do not overlook the importance of managing your own stress. Trying to help a family member over whom you do not have direct control can be maddening if you do not approch it with a certain detachment and awareness of your own limitations.

Hope this is helpful to you.


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Thank you for your quick response.

Yes-she is on medication. I believe she is on an anti-depressant. However, her psychiatrist has switched her medications fairly often, due to bad side effects.

And I suppose you're right about detaching a little and becoming aware of my limitations. Thanks again.

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