Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent and intrusive thoughts, known as obsessions, and repetitive behaviors or mental acts, referred to as compulsions.
OCD can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life, as individuals spend significant time and energy on their obsessions and compulsive behaviors. The time spent trapped within the OCD cycle may cause individuals to withdraw from daily activities and struggle to form relationships with others.
Living with OCD can feel isolating and distressing. It may feel like no one can understand the overwhelming anxiety and emotional strain you suffer daily.
It may be comforting to know that you are not alone; millions nationwide struggle with their OCD daily. Below we’ll discuss how common OCD is.
How Common is OCD?
OCD is a relatively common mental health condition. The prevalence of OCD varies across different populations and countries, but on average, it is estimated that approximately 1% – or between 2 to 3 million adults – struggle with OCD in the United States.  The USA estimates are lower than the estimated international prevalence of OCD, which stands between 1.1%-1.8%. 
Of the 1% of strugglers in the USA, roughly 0.5% are children and adolescents, up to around 500,000 people.  These numbers are proportionate to the number of children with diabetes.  That means four or five children in any average-sized elementary school struggle with OCD. 
It is worth noting that these figures underrepresent the number of people affected by OCD, as sufferers will typically involve loved ones or other people in their OCD compulsions.  People with OCD may repeatedly seek assurance or insist others constantly perform certain behaviors to combat anxiety. 
Additionally, there may be cultural factors at play that obstruct marginalized people from receiving a proper diagnosis and effective treatment. The lack of inclusion of marginalized populations within research studies means the statistics don’t necessarily reflect the whole population of sufferers.
OCD is experienced across a spectrum, with some individuals experiencing significant impairment in their daily lives due to the symptoms and others presenting milder symptoms.
Who is most likely to get OCD?
OCD typically affects people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds equally.  People can be diagnosed with OCD at any age, but there are typically two age ranges at which it first appears: 
- Between the ages of 8 and 12
- Between late adolescence and early adulthood
However, over the last year, research from the National Institute of Mental Health has shown an increased prevalence of OCD among females.  1.8% of women were diagnosed with OCD, while only 0.5% of men were. 
While there isn’t one known cause of OCD, research indicates that genetic, environmental, and neurological factors contribute to its development.
A family history of OCD or other anxiety disorders may increase the risk of developing OCD. Additionally, certain life events, such as trauma or significant stress, can trigger or worsen symptoms in susceptible individuals.
Are OCD rates rising?
Due to several factors, it is difficult to determine whether more people have OCD now compared to previous times.
Awareness and understanding of OCD have significantly increased over the years, leading to improved recognition and diagnosis of the psychiatric disorder. In the past, OCD may have been misinterpreted or attributed to other conditions, resulting in underreporting or misdiagnosis.
Advancements in psychiatric research and diagnostic criteria have also contributed to a better understanding of OCD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard diagnostic tool for clinical mental health disorders. The DSM has undergone revisions over time, which may have expanded the criteria for OCD diagnosis and led to a spike in cases.
Moreover, societal factors and changing environments could influence the prevalence of OCD. Increased stress levels, changes in lifestyle, and exposure to specific triggers or risk factors might contribute to developing or exacerbating OCD symptoms.
Continued research, awareness, and education around the subject of OCD is fundamental to understanding more about the condition going forward. If these efforts result in more people being diagnosed with OCD, more people are getting the help they need to manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.
- International OCD Foundation. (2023, April 6). International OCD Foundation | Who Gets OCD? https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/who-gets-ocd/
- Occurrences of OCD | OCD-UK. (n.d.). https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/how-common-is-ocd/
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd
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