Can OCD kill you?

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition marked by cycles of distressing thoughts and compulsions. While OCD isn’t inherently deadly to a sufferer, the compound effect of these aspects of OCD can significantly worsen an individual’s quality of life and mental well-being.

Intrusive and unpleasant thoughts are staple symptoms of OCD. [1] These thoughts can be violent in nature and relate to the killing of oneself or others. [1] These thoughts cause marked distress, leading sufferers to feel the urge to act on compulsions to alleviate anxiety. [1]

Treatment options, such as cognitive behavior therapy with exposure and response prevention, are integral to helping sufferers manage symptoms of OCD. [1]

Can OCD kill?

While the effects of OCD are not directly life-threatening, engaging in certain compulsive behaviors can lead to physical harm. For example, excessive handwashing or cleaning rituals may cause skin damage or infections, and self-soothing behaviors such as skin picking or hair pulling can cause long term physical damage.

Studies point to most people with severe OCD being unable to perform basic acts of self-care and hygiene. [2] 60% of patients tested in a 2011 study showed evidence of dehydration, while 40% were incontinent.

OCD patients are particularly prone to kidney damage and hyperlipidemia, which may be related to an erratic eating schedule and an inability to hydrate properly. [2]

Sufferers of OCD may exhibit self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts, which require immediate professional intervention and support.

OCD and suicide

There are numerous published studies that point to a higher risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors in people with OCD than others in the general population. [3]

Research suggests that individuals with OCD who are most at risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors are those who have comorbid conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, or other mental health challenges. [4] This risk is also increased if the person with OCD has a history of substance abuse or is socially isolated or unemployed.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting self-harming behaviors, it is crucial to seek professional help. If the person is in a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and guidance from a trained counselor. Alternatively, call 911 immediately if believe you or a loved one to be in danger. Remember you are not alone and there are people and organizations that can help you.

How can you help someone with OCD who is having suicidal thoughts?

If you are concerned about someone with OCD who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, here are some steps you can take to help:

  1. Encourage open communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment for the person to express their feelings. Encourage them to share their thoughts and emotions about why they are considering taking their life and share your feelings in turn.
  2. Express your concern and ask questions: Let the person know that you genuinely care about their well-being. Ask questions about their thoughts. Start by askingif they have a plan for taking their life. If they are planning, ask how and when they plan on carrying out taking their life. This can make the suicidal thoughts seem like a subject that is open for discussion, rather than marking them as a taboo topic which could isolate the sufferer. In addition, this could make a person more willing to seek out professional help.
  3. Encourage professional help: Encourage the person to seek professional assistance from a mental health provider. Suggest that they reach out to a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist who specializes in OCD or mental health issues. If the person has a plan and intent to take their life, they are in immediate danger. In these cases, do not hesitate to contact emergency services yourself or immediately transport them to a hospital.
  4. Support their treatment: Encourage the person to follow their treatment plan, which will typically involve a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Offer to help them with practical aspects, such as scheduling appointments and giving lifts.
  5. Foster a support system: Help the person build a support network by suggesting they connect with friends, family, or support groups for individuals with OCD. Knowing that they have people who understand and support them can be valuable in their recovery.

Remember, supporting someone with suicidal thoughts can be challenging, disheartening and stressful. It is essential to also take care of your own well-being and you may benefit from seeking guidance from a mental health professional.

Again, it is important to stress that if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is crucial to seek immediate help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and guidance from a trained counselor. Alternatively, call 911 immediately if believe you or a loved one to be in danger. Remember you are not alone and there are people and organizations that can help you.

  1. International OCD Foundation. (2017, October 10). International OCD Foundation | How I Treat OCD Killer Thoughts: Treating Violent Obsessions.
  2. Drummond, L. M., Hameed, A. K., & Ion, R. (2011). Physical complications of severe enduring obsessive-compulsive disorder. World Psychiatry.
  3. Rachamallu, V., Song, M. M., Liu, H., Giles, C. L., & McMahon, T. (2017). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with Suicide Obsessions in a First Responder without Previous Diagnosis of OCD or History of Suicide Attempts. Case reports in psychiatry, 2017, 4808275.
  4. Balci, V., & Sevincok, L. (2010). Suicidal ideation in patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder. Psychiatry Research-neuroimaging, 175(1–2), 104–108.
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri is a medical writer with a non-profit sector background, committed to raising awareness about mental health.

Published: Jul 20th 2023, Last edited: Feb 21st 2024

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 20th 2023