People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) also often experience depression.

OCD is a mental health condition that causes people to have obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are repeated thoughts or urges that may cause a person to develop anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person feels the need to do due to obsessive thoughts.

OCD and depression often occur together.

This article examines the link between OCD and depression. It also discusses the similarities between the two conditions and outlines ways a person can manage them.

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OCD can cause a person to experience persistent intrusive thoughts. It can also cause a person to develop rigid, unchangeable behaviors. Some people with OCD experience great distress if they do not perform these behaviors.

According to the International OCD Foundation, OCD can cause distress and adversely affect a person in many ways, including:

  • interpersonal relationships
  • leisure activities
  • school functioning
  • work functioning
  • general satisfaction with life

This is part of the reason mental health professionals often associate OCD with depression.

Studies show that more than 50% of people with OCD meet lifetime criteria for major depressive disorder.

According to the International OCD Foundation, people who experience both OCD and depression typically report that their OCD symptoms begin before the depressive symptoms.

This suggests that depression may occur as a response to how a person experiences OCD.

Experts do not fully understand why people with OCD often develop symptoms of depression. However, they suggest depression may occur due to:

  • the obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD
  • how OCD profoundly disrupts a person’s ability to function
  • how OCD causes a person to experience intense emotional distress
  • how OCD exerts a profound effect on a person’s relationships, functioning, and daily activities

A 2017 study assessed the link between OCD and depression over time. The study included 382 people with OCD. It evaluated the association between their OCD and depressive symptoms before the study and at 2 and 4-year follow-ups.

The study showed that OCD caused depressive symptoms and not vice versa. It concluded that depressive symptoms may occur in people with OCD due to the incapacitating effect of OCD symptoms.

Obsessions and depression

Rumination is the term for repeatedly thinking the same negative thoughts. People with OCD tend to experience persistent rumination.

Studies show that ruminating is a key factor in why people with OCD develop depression. This may be because constantly experiencing the same intrusive thoughts can cause a person to feel distressed and low.

A 2017 study asked people with OCD and depression to participate in a survey asking questions relating to their symptoms. It concluded that obsessive thoughts related to harm and danger coupled with repeated unsuccessful efforts to dispel anxiety could lead to the development of depressive thoughts.

Compulsions and depression

People with OCD often experience compulsions to act in a certain way in response to particular obsessive thoughts.

Often, people with OCD must carry out these compulsions in a specific way, which some mental health professionals call perfectionism.

Researchers state that perfectionism is a common symptom of OCD and often associate it with other conditions, including depression.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that experts do not know the exact causes of OCD.

The NIMH adds that mental health professionals associate various factors with an increased chance of developing OCD. These include:

  • genetics
  • differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain
  • childhood trauma
  • streptococcal infections

There is no evidence that depression causes a person to develop OCD.

Depression and OCD share some similar symptoms. These include:

  • both conditions can affect a person’s mood
  • OCD and depression can affect a person’s relationships
  • both conditions can affect a person’s ability to function
  • OCD and depression can cause a person to develop low self-esteem
  • specific thinking patterns can worsen OCD and depression
  • psychotherapy can effectively treat both conditions
  • genetics may play a role in the development of both OCD and depression
  • some antidepressant medications can treat OCD and depression, including:

Despite sharing some similar symptoms, OCD and depression have differences. These include:

  • OCD compulsions: OCD causes a person to have regular compulsions. Depression does not cause people to develop these compulsions.
  • Tic disorders: Sometimes OCD can cause a person to develop a tic disorder. These are sudden and brief movements that a person repeats. There is no research to suggest that depression can cause these disorders.

There are various ways a person can help manage symptoms of OCD and depression.

Focus on OCD symptoms first

If a person has OCD and depression, they may choose to focus on treating their OCD symptoms first. The reason is that if a person improves their OCD symptoms, their symptoms of depression may also improve.

This is because OCD can cause a person to develop depression. However, depression does not typically cause a person to develop OCD.

Seek help from a mental health professional

Speaking to a mental health professional is an effective step toward managing these two conditions. They may suggest that the person undergoes psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for OCD. It is also a successful treatment option for depression.

Mental health professionals sometimes refer to psychotherapy as talk therapy or counseling. It can help people learn new ways of thinking and behaving. This can help them change habits that contribute to OCD and depression.

Reach out to connect with others

If a person is experiencing depression, reaching out and talking with others about their thoughts and feelings can help them deal with the symptoms of depression.

Try to get regular physical activity

Participating in regular physical activity can help ease symptoms of depression. The NIMH states that just 30 minutes of walking a day can boost a person’s mood.

Some studies also suggest that exercise may effectively reduce symptoms of OCD. However, researchers need to carry out more studies to verify this.

OCD is a mental health condition that causes a person to have uncontrollable, recurring thoughts, behaviors, or both. OCD can also cause a person to develop depression. Around half of the people with OCD experience depression.

Mental health professionals believe that the incapacitating effects of OCD, alongside obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, can cause a person to develop depression.

People can manage their OCD and depression by seeking help from mental health professionals, reaching out to others, and getting regular physical exercise.