OCD and Death

darknessAs some of us know, obsessive-compulsive disorder can take on many shapes and forms, limited only by the imagination of the person with OCD. In general, OCD likes to attack whatever it is we most value: our families, relationships, morals, accomplishments, etc. In short – our lives.

So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that some people with OCD are obsessed with death. What better way for OCD to attack what is most important to us than telling us our lives are all for naught as we’re just going to die anyway?

It is not unusual for people to think about death. Personally, the thought comes into my mind often. At times it hits me like a ton of bricks that my time here on earth is limited, and this realization brings up various philosophical questions: What’s the meaning of life? Am I living my life the way I should, or want? Will it even matter that I was here? Is there life, or anything, after death? The list goes on.

I don’t have OCD so I’m usually able to let it all go after a few minutes. I realize the questions I have, for the most part, are unanswerable. I accept the uncertainty and go on with my life. For those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, obsessing about death can be torturous. People with OCD can easily spend hours upon hours a day obsessing over various aspects of death and dying, asking the same existential questions mentioned above, and then some. But they don’t stop there. They want answers to these questions and might analyze and research them – again for hours and hours. They might also seek reassurance, either from themselves, clergy, or anyone who will listen. It’s not hard to see that these obsessions and compulsions can literally take up an entire day and overtake lives. It is not uncommon to experience general anxiety as well as depression when dealing with OCD related to death.

So how is this OCD treated? You guessed it – exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. While we can’t control our thoughts about death, we can learn how to better react to these thoughts. Exposures might include those with OCD deliberately subjecting themselves to the thoughts they fear, typically through the use of imaginal exposures, while response prevention involves not avoiding or trying to escape these fears, but rather embracing the possibility they will occur. No seeking reassurance. No analyzing, researching or questioning these thoughts – just acceptance of them. In short, ERP therapy consists of doing the opposite of what OCD demands. In time, these thoughts that previously had caused so much distress will not only lose their power, but also their hold on the person with OCD.

Time and time again, we see how OCD tries to steal what is most important to us. Ironically, those caught in the vicious cycle of obsessions and compulsions related to death and dying are robbed of living their lives to the fullest. Thankfully, there is good treatment to help those with OCD learn to live in the present moment and work toward the lives they deserve.



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9 Responses to OCD and Death

  1. E says:

    Exactly and yes and oh no. Grr. So well said. I’m finding help from EMDR and exposure therapy so I know there’s hope. A magic cure would be great though.

  2. Viv says:

    I have suffered with this for years and years along with ocd anxiety and depression .. As a child having been reassured only old people die, at age 7 my best friend died of leukaemia ,looking the picture of health compared with me, a very thin anaemic child . Ive had years of cbt and counselling which has helped very little . Looking for other avenues as my son suffers with the same problems !

    • Hi Viv, I’m sorry you have been suffering for so long. You say you’ve had CBT but I’m wondering if you’ve done exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist. This will help you face your fears and learn to live with the uncertainty of life. I wish you and your son all the best.

  3. RA says:

    Long post ahead:
    While this isn’t necessarily about fear of death, rather it’s about having lost someone at an early age. My son (late-twenties) was only four when his little sister passed. Our deceased child’s emergency surgeries and subsequent chronic illness left us with having our oldest cared for by relatives (some over 10 hours away). We were grateful for their love and care, but I think my son’s stuff started then. We had another child later that was a challenge (ADHD), so there was my oldest sort of “abandoned” again. His moods got more dark and more intense going in to puberty.

    We’ve had a myriad of diagnoses and hospitalizations over the years (for our oldest). The only real indicator of his functioning somewhat “normal” (what the heck is that any way?) is that he sees to his hygiene (however, washes his hands too often), goes to work, goes out on weekends (often alone). It hurts me that he is “so done with” therapy, etc. He was over medicated so often and the public system of mental health had too much turnover (goodness, worse than McDonald’s out our way) for real continuity of services. It just hurts his dad and I that his life is somewhat limited by the gaps in his development/maturity (hence low-paying jobs). He won’t take any government aid, so he can’t afford living on his own. He won’t take on a roommate (sp), I think it’s to do with his obsessive thinking.

    All we can do is just…I guess be thankful for the victories: he works, he gets out, he hasn’t been hospitalized in over four years, he is trying to make a go without medication. It is out of my hands.

    • Hi RA, Thank you so much for sharing, and I’m sorry your family has been through so much heartache. I’m not a professional so I wouldn’t even begin to advise you but I’m wondering if you and or your husband have considered talking with a therapist yourselves to help you figure out the best way for your family to move forward. Wishing you all the best and hope to hear from you again.

      • RA says:

        Thanks for your compassion, Janet. Life so often gets in the way of taking care of ourselves it seems.I have thought about going to a therapist. Not adverse to it, as I’ve been to one on/off throughout my life. Goodness, it’s like dating, lol…finding a good therapist. I need to make a more concerted effort to find a good one. Last one I “auditioned”, I was trying to work through dealing with my aging parent that was in poor health and hoarding. The counselor connected with that (her own mother hoarded) and wanted to talk about her own issues, lol. I never went back. I will definitely ponder talking to someone. Fresh eyes, as it were. Thanks again, RA

  4. Love your sense of humor and your analogy between finding a good therapist and dating. Not sure which one is more difficult!

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