OCD and Siblings

siblings and mom


This post originally appeared in May 2013:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects not only those who have it, but their whole family as well. Being privy to the havoc the disorder often causes can be especially disrupting, confusing, and upsetting to children. While parents are likely expending every ounce of energy they have trying to help their child with OCD, I think we need to remember that siblings suffer also.

In my family’s case, Dan’s OCD was not evident until he started college far from home, so his sisters weren’t around him. That’s not to say their lives weren’t affected. While our older daughter was living on her own at the time, our younger daughter was still at home. With our limited knowledge, my husband and I explained Dan’s illness to them as best we could, and kept them up-to-date on what was happening with him.

In retrospect, we should have done more. At the time, only our immediate family knew about Dan’s OCD,  so our daughters really couldn’t talk with anyone else about the situation. My husband and I should have talked with them more about their feelings. Were they jealous that Dan was getting so much attention? After all, I spent three weeks fifteen hundred miles from home helping him get through his freshman year of college. Did they feel confused (I think that’s pretty much a given; we all were), scared, worried about their brother, or neglected? What were their fears and concerns? Did they think they might develop OCD also?

Why didn’t we pay more attention to our other children? While there’s no good excuse, the reality is we were totally immersed in caring for Dan. Figuring out what was wrong, how he should be treated, who we should trust. And that was the tip of the iceberg. And the girls seemed okay. One was a teenager and the other was in her early twenties, so they had their own busy lives they continued on with. We were lucky there weren’t any major sibling issues. I think this is mostly due to our children’s ages and the fact that Dan was away from home when things got really bad.

But what about younger children who are living day-to-day with a sibling who has OCD? How are they affected? Are they teased about their brother or sister at school? Do they feel uncomfortable in their own home? Do they think their sibling’s OCD is somehow their fault? Do they feel frustrated because they want to help their sibling and don’t know how? Are they jealous? If a sibling is part of a child’s OCD (for example, the child with OCD might think his brother or sister is contaminated), how is that being dealt with? These are just some of the many complicated issues that might arise. Therapy, and perhaps a support group, can be helpful for siblings.

There is no question OCD is a family affair. I feel for parents who not only need to help their child with OCD, but care for their other children as well. It’s hard, and we all do the best we can. And maybe that’s enough, as I do believe our children sense our love and good intentions.

When our lives calmed down my older daughter told me she thought it was “really great” that we supported Dan as much as we did. That’s when I realized actions often speak louder than words. Witnessing Dan’s crisis from the sidelines, she was comforted by the realization that her parents would always be there, not only for her brother, but for her and her sister as well.

This entry was posted in Mental Health, OCD and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to OCD and Siblings

  1. parentsfriend says:

    Pinned it. Thank you.

  2. Patricia OBeirne says:


    I am glad that your family was able to get through it so well, despite the hardship. In my case, it almost destroyed my family and I was very affected, being 11 when my brother developed very severe OCD.

    It was hell, but I and we, somehow fought through. I left home as soon as I could, for many reasons, especially our father’s dysfunction and inability to cope. It took me many years to find a way to deal with the whole situation, especially my father and his own, never diagnosed, OCPD and other serious problems.

    Unfortunately, the impact all of this has had on the rest of the family is somewhat taboo in my family, a topic I can only discuss with my sister and husband. My mother is elderly now and I have no wish to have her re-live all of what we went through.

    33 years later, my dad is gone, but we are here and, as a family, have made great strides in learning how to help my brother (who is still very affected by OCD and other issues) without enabling his illness as best we can. I must say, we did it largely without any help from a multitude of health care professionals, social workers, etc. Although Canada has Medicare, the health system is quite lacking in having a comprehensive approach towards mental illness, starting with involving the family.

    Anyhow, my greatest sources of support have been my sister, mother (to some extent) and my husband. I have also become active in a mental health support group for families to get support but also to give. If I can help share even a bit of what I and we have learned over the decades, it’s worth it.

    I have bought your book about your son’s journey to better health and I have begun to read it. Your blog is a precious resource. Thank you so much for writing it!


    Patricia O’Beirne sister of a brother with severe OCD

    Date: Sun, 27 Dec 2015 11:06:54 +0000 To: patriciaclaireob@hotmail.com

    • Hi Patricia, Thank you so much for sharing, and I’m so sorry your family has suffered so much. I think your story underscores the importance of talking about our issues (we all have them!) in order to work toward healing. You obviously understand this importance! Thank you for your kind words about my blog and I wish you and your family all the best. Hope to hear from you again!

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