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OCD in Singapore

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has become one of the top mental health issues in Singapore. Do you know the main symptoms and if your health insurance will cover treatment?

Posted on Jan 08, 2016 by rob.mcbroom

Let's face it, mental health in Singapore, and indeed the rest of Asia, is one of the least addressed and serviced medical conditions. Many treat it as a taboo subject that will never happen to them, or should simply be ignored as it's not a physical ailment. The thing is, mental health has as much or more of an impact on our total health as any physical ailments. Mental health is a wide field of study that encompasses hundreds of ailments, but there appears to be one form that is on the rise in Singapore: OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

While this is not the most prevalent disorder in Singapore, a recent article in the Singapore Times pointed out that, "OCD is among the top three most common mental disorders here, with about 3 per cent of the population - or one in 33 people here - suffering from it, according to the Singapore Mental Health study by IMH. This is higher than the rate in the United States (2.3 per cent) or Europe (1.1 per cent)."

The article went on to note that, " The latest figures from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) show that 850 adults were treated for the condition as of November last year (2015), up from 640 in 2010." Combine this with the fact that mental health experts in Singapore believe that as many as 9 out of 10 people diagnosed don't actually seek treatment, and it is clear to see that this is a serious issue that people living in Singapore need to be aware of.

To help, we have written this article which defines OCD, explores the common signs and symptoms, and how doctors will treat it should it be diagnosed.

What exactly is OCD?

OCD is a chronic condition, meaning it will last for an extended period of time, that is characterized by both obsessions and compulsions. For most sufferers it starts with obsessions which are impulses, thoughts, or images that are repetitive and beyond our control. Because these obsessions are beyond our control, it is highly common to become anxious.

In order to relieve this anxiety, it is common to develop compulsions which are either physical or mental actions. The problem is, this relief is often short-term, which leads to the feeling that you need to repeat your actions.

Unlike other disorders, people diagnosed with OCD will often show different signs and symptoms. That being said, there are a number of generally accepted symptoms that can be divided into obsessions and compulsions.

Common obsession symptoms

Mental health experts often prefer to group obsession symptoms into themes largely based on the fact that many patients tend to show symptoms along a central theme. The most common include:

  • Fear of dirt, germs, or contamination
  • The need to have things in order, or in a specific location at all times
  • Unsettling thoughts about harming yourself or others
  • Unwanted thoughts including sexual, aggressive, religious, etc.

Common compulsive symptoms

Like obsessions, there tends to be a wide variety of compulsions which doctors will usually grouped into themes. The most common include:

  • Continuous washing and cleaning
  • Counting to a specific number or in a specific manner
  • Checking and rechecking if something has been done
  • Following a routine
  • Demanding reassurance
  • Insisting that things be in a certain order

When put together, some examples of OCD include a fear of dirty hands and contaminated surfaces, which can lead to a person washing their hands each and every time they touch something. When they do wash their hands, it is always done in a certain way and for a certain amount of time.


According to the Mayo Clinic, "Symptoms of OCD usually begin gradually and tend to vary in severity throughout your life. Symptoms generally worsen when you're experiencing more stress. OCD, considered a lifelong disorder, can be so severe and time-consuming that it becomes disabling."  Combine this with the fact that some OCD tendencies can be harmful (e.g., the need to harm yourself, or others, or severe depression), and it is clear to see that any symptoms should be discussed with your doctor.

The problem is, it can be hard to actually recognize OCD symptoms. For example, being strict about cleanliness and washing your hands more than a regular amount may not be classified as OCD. Rather, it is recommended that you see your doctor when your compulsive actions or obsessions start to affect your life.

If you are diagnosed with OCD there are two ways it can be treated:

  • Pharmacologic - In many cases where pharmaceuticals are used it is found that the brain, in a similar fashion  to a brain affected by depression, has high levels of serotonin, so anti-depressants may be used to inhibit or reduce the amount of serotonin in your brain. Other drugs may be used as well and will vary on a case-by-case basis.
  • Non-Pharmacologic - If cases are mild, doctors may suggest Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which can help teach you how to manage your symptoms through what is called Exposure Response Prevention. In many cases where pharmaceuticals are used, this may also be suggested as an additional method to help you recover or manage your OCD.

How does health insurance come into the equation?

Treatment and care for OCD can be quite costly, especially if you need to travel to see specialists, or if you don't have access to Singapore's public health insurance. It would therefore be a good idea to secure a robust health insurance plan, such as an international health insurance plan, that can cover the cost. One thing to be aware of, however, is that if you have been diagnosed with OCD it may be considered a pre-existing condition, which some insurers will exclude.

To help ensure that you have the best insurance, contact Pacific Prime Singapore. Our health insurance experts can help you find a plan that will cover your medical needs. Contact us today to learn how.


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