What are Anxiety/OCD?

What is OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects at least one in 200 youth. It occurs when a person is caught up in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions:

  1. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that come up over and over again and feel outside of the student’s control. These obsessions cause discomfort and distress.
  2. Compulsions, or rituals, are behaviors a child feels they have to do to get rid of the bad feelings from the obsessions. These behaviors can be both physical and mental.  

In general, OCD is diagnosed when these obsessions and compulsions become so time consuming that they negatively interfere with your life. Typically, the obsessions and compulsions become gradually more severe over time until they get to this point.

Among racial and ethnic minorities, OCD symptoms may be influenced by negative stereotypes, racism, or one’s racial identity. For example, fear of validating false racial stereotypes may contribute to OCD-related anxieties.

There are many different types of OCD. Here are a few of the most common obsessions and compulsions:




ContaminationFear of touching or otherwise coming into contact with things you think are "contaminated," or dirty, unclean, dangerous, gross, etc.

These things can include body fluids, dirt, germs/diseases, chemicals, etc.
Washing hands over and over again or doing so in a specific way

Long cleaning routines in the bathroom (showering, brushing etc..)

Avoiding places, or people you believe are contaminated
Perfectionism Having really high expectations when it comes to completing an assignment or a task

Wanting to know or remember things or being afraid you’ll forget something important
Re-writing or re-reading 

Repeating until it feels right

Stepping on an even number of sidewalks
Doing HarmFear of doing something horrible to yourself or a loved one

Being afraid something terrible is going to happen to friends, or family.
Repeating positive words a certain number of times to avoid harm from happening to a loved one or a family member.

Seeking reassurance that you didn’t do something that harmed your loved ones 
Intrusive ThoughtsHaving unwanted harmful or forbidden thoughts come to mind Intrusive thoughts can involve mental compulsions like doing homework and making sure it ends on a good note, or a safe number.

What is Anxiety?

As a student, you may feel worry, fear, or nervousness. This is defined as anxiety and it can happen at any time regardless of what is happening in your life.  For example, toddlers are often distressed when separated from their parents, even if other family members are surrounding them. Young children may feel worried or nervous when going out in public, seeing friends, or participating in certain activities. Although fears and worries are typical in children, when these fears become persistent or extreme or interfere with school, home, or activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can affect your behavior at school and at home, and your ability to participate in class and perform assigned tasks.

For BIPOC youth, experiences of racism and discrimination, social determinants of health, current and historical stressors, and the resulting internalized stress may contribute to increased anxiety and mental health concerns. Further, youth living within a racially oppressive context may feel as if they are constantly in a state of hypervigilance, contributing to increased anxious arousal or generalized worry, fear, or nervousness.

Click on the (+) sign next to each condition below to learn more about the various types of anxiety disorders:

What is OCD and Anxiety for BIPOC Youth?

While all students are susceptible to anxiety and/or OCD symptoms in the school setting, students from racial minority groups are also vulnerable to symptoms of racial trauma. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the signs and symptoms of racial trauma to differentiate between normal vs. abnormal behavior, particularly when considering anxiety or OCD among students of color.

Racial Trauma in BIPOC Youth

Traumatic events that occur due to experiencing racism or discrimination can profoundly impact your mental and physical well-being. Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress, refers to the mental and emotional impact of one’s experiences of racism and discrimination. Signs of racial trauma appear in students ranging from infancy-adulthood.

When it comes to racial trauma in a school setting, you may notice yourself experiencing some of the following signs/symptoms:

  1. Racial trauma may contribute to you having increased physical symptoms, like headaches, stomach aches, tension in the chest, or a racing heartbeat. 
  2. You might be feeling increased negative emotions, such as depression or anxiety, within the context of discrimination.
  3. Exposure to chronically stressful race-related conditions may make you feel detached or numb.
  4. Racial trauma may make you feel helpless, hopeless, and worried for other students with your skin tone and/or ethnic-racial identity.
  5. You might become preoccupied with your safety or the safety of peers/family members.
  6. You may notice decreased academic motivation in general or have difficulty concentrating in the classroom. 
  7. Incomplete assignments or homework, although you know you are capable of doing them.
  8. Seeking reassurance or validation from others.

How are Anxiety/OCD Treated?

The treatment for anxiety and OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication.  For certain types of anxiety and for OCD specifically, a type of CBT called exposure and response prevention therapy is the best treatment. The exposure in ERP means exposing yourself to thoughts, images, objects, or situations that may make you anxious. The response prevention part of ERP means you make a choice to not engage in compulsive behavior. This may sound hard, but it is done with the help of a professional therapist.  Click here to learn more about CBT/ERP, and click here to learn more about how to find the right therapist.

Medication can also help treat anxiety/OCD, especially if your symptoms are really severe and intense. The type of medications used for anxiety/OCD are called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). This medication should be administered by a licensed medical mental health professional, such as a pediatrician or psychiatrist. Click here to learn more about medication for anxiety/OCD.

For BIPOC youth, experiences of discriminatory encounters may contribute to increased anxiety and mental health concerns. Racial socialization, or transmitting culture, attitudes, and values to prepare youth to cope with racial discrimination, may be an essential component of effective anxiety/OCD treatment for BIPOC youth. Click here to learn more about racial socialization, and click here to find a multicultural or racial trauma-informed therapist.

Our Work Young Person with anxiety jumping over a ball
Our Work Young people with OCD helping each other
Our Work Teacher looking up info on OCD