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Can OCD cause depression

Can OCD Cause Depression? 4 Surprising Ways They Connect

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: September 7, 2023

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common psychological issue that can really make life hard. But can OCD cause depression? Studies show that quite a lot of people with OCD also have something called a major depressive episode.” This means they often feel sad for a few weeks or more, don’t enjoy things like they used to, stay away from others, have problems with eating, sleeping, and even with their feelings of wanting to be close to someone. It’s like they feel really sad, lost, and worthless.

It’s common for people to have both OCD and depression together. The International OCD Foundation thinks that around 25 to 50 percent of those with OCD will also feel depressed. Usually, OCD symptoms show up first, but for a few people, both conditions start together. It’s not usual for depression symptoms to come before OCD.

Most people who have both OCD and depression say that their OCD troubles started before they felt depressed. This suggests that depression might happen because of how hard it is to deal with OCD and all the problems it brings. Sometimes, though not as often, depression and OCD start at the same time, or depression starts before OCD. 

So let’s uncover in detail, Can OCD cause Depression?.

What is OCD?

OCD is something that many people have. It’s a disorder that makes you have thoughts that won’t go away (obsessions) and do things again and again (compulsions).

While everyone worries sometimes or checks things a lot, OCD is more serious. The symptoms are strong and don’t stop easily. They can make you upset and make it hard to do regular things. People with OCD might feel like they have to check things or do certain actions for over an hour each day just to feel less worried. If OCD isn’t treated, these actions can mess up your work, school, and relationships and make you feel bad.

OCD signs usually start when you’re around 10 or in your early 20s, and boys might notice them earlier than girls. Most people get diagnosed with OCD when they’re young adults.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD.

People with OCD might have obsessions, compulsions, or both.

Obsessions are thoughts, urges, or mental pictures that keep coming back and make you feel anxious. Some common obsessions are:

  • Worrying about germs or dirt.
  • Being afraid of losing things or forgetting.
  • Feeling like you might do something wrong or harmful.
  • Having upsetting thoughts about sex, religion, or hurting someone.

Compulsions are actions you do over and over again because of the anxious thoughts. Some common compulsions are:

  • Washing your hands a lot or cleaning too much.
  • Arranging things in a specific way
  • Checking things repeatedly, like making sure the door is locked or the stove is off.
  • Counting things again and again.

Remember, if these things start taking up a lot of your time and causing trouble in your life, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. They can help you find ways to manage these feelings and actions.

What is depression?

Depression, known as major depressive disorder, is a common and serious medical condition that affects your feelings, thoughts, and actions in negative ways. The good news is that it can be treated. Depression leads to feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. It can also cause various emotional and physical issues, making it challenging to function at work and in daily life.

Signs and symptoms of depression:

1. Feeling sad or having a low mood

2. Losing interest in activities that used to bring joy

3. Changes in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain unrelated to diet

4. Sleep problems, either too much or too little sleep

5. Low energy levels or extreme fatigue

6. Restlessness or slowed movements and speech

7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

8. Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or thinking clearly.

9. Memory loss, frequent headaches and other bodily discomfort.

10. Thoughts of death or suicide

For a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms should last for at least two weeks and cause a noticeable change in your daily functioning.  

Approximately 6.7% of adults (1 in 15) experience depression in a given year, and about 16.6% of people (1 in 6) will experience depression at some point in their lives. 

Depression can start at any age, but it often begins in the late teens or mid-20s. Women are more likely than men to have depression, with about one-third of women experiencing a major depressive episode in their lifetime. Genetics also play a role, as there’s a significant hereditary factor (around 40%) when immediate family members have a history of depression.

Can depression cause OCD?

No, depression doesn’t directly cause OCD. The exact cause of OCD isn’t completely understood, but it’s not linked to depression. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD can be caused by things like:

  • Genetics: If someone in your family has had OCD, you might be more likely to develop it too. This suggests that there might be a genetic link.
  • Brain Differences: Certain parts of the brain, like the frontal cortex and subcortical regions, might work differently in people with OCD. This could contribute to the development of the disorder.
  • Childhood Trauma: Sometimes, difficult experiences or traumas during childhood could be linked to the development of OCD in the future.
  • Infections: There’s a rare connection between streptococcal infections (like strep throat) and the sudden onset of OCD symptoms in some children. This is known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS).

So, while depression and OCD can be related, one doesn’t directly cause the other.

Can OCD cause Depression?

Yes, OCD can lead to depression. When someone has OCD, they often experience distressing thoughts (obsessions) and feel driven to perform certain actions or rituals (compulsions) to alleviate their anxiety. The constant struggle with these thoughts and behaviors can take a toll on their overall well-being and quality of life. This ongoing battle can lead to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and sadness, which are common characteristics of depression.

There are a 4 ways in which OCD can cause depression:

1. Obsessive Thoughts: The intrusive and disturbing thoughts that people with OCD experience can be distressing and emotionally draining. These thoughts can cause significant anxiety, and if they persist, they can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and sadness.

2. Compulsive Actions: The need to perform repetitive rituals or actions to manage the anxiety caused by obsessions can be exhausting and time-consuming. This can lead to a sense of frustration and decreased enjoyment in daily activities, which are common aspects of depression.

3. Impact on Life: OCD can significantly interfere with daily life, work, relationships, and leisure activities. As a result, individuals may start to isolate themselves, have trouble enjoying things, and experience difficulties in their personal and professional lives, all of which are associated with depression.

4. Psychological Strain: The constant battle with OCD can create psychological strain, leading to feelings of low self-worth, hopelessness, and exhaustion—all of which are characteristic of depression.

Because of these factors, researchers often find that many individuals with OCD experience depression. It’s important to note that while there is a strong link between OCD and depression, they are distinct disorders with their own diagnostic criteria and treatment approaches.  

Research base:

According to research performed by PMC:

Even though Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Depression are seen as different issues, they often show up together. People have debated, “Can OCD cause depression?. Some think that OCD is a mood problem, while others say both are linked to feeling bad. Another idea is that depression is a big part of OCD, but they’re still separate.

In this study, researchers wanted to figure out what was true. They studied regular people, not those in clinics, to see if thoughts like worry and sadness, feeling hopeless, and being too hard on oneself were linked to both OCD and depression. They tested 200 people, mostly women, and found that OCD and depression were connected, as were depression and feeling really bad, but OCD and feeling bad weren’t as strongly connected. 

They also saw that thoughts of worry and sadness, as well as being hostile, predicted both OCD and depression, but worry and sadness were stronger for OCD. Being too hard on oneself only predicts depression. Feeling hopeless didn’t predict either issue, but it was linked to thoughts of sadness. Depression showed more of the feeling really bad part than OCD did, and while OCD could lead to depression, having depression didn’t mean someone had OCD.

This study supports the idea that OCD and depression are separate, and that while depression is part of OCD, the opposite isn’t as true. Even though both are linked to feeling bad, depression is more strongly connected. This means that the thought of depression being in OCD, but not always the other way around, is likely true. More research is needed to check if this is true for people getting treatment.

Similarities and Differences between OCD and Depression:

How are OCD and Depression similar?

OCD and depression have many similar symptoms, such as:

  • Both disorders can affect your mood, relationships, and ability to function well in your daily life.
  • People with both OCD and depression often have negative thoughts about themselves.
  • Both disorders can lead to unhelpful ways of thinking that make the symptoms worse.
  • Both OCD and depression can usually be improved with a combination of therapy and medication, particularly a type of medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

How are OCD and Depression different?

Even though they have similarities, there are some important differences between OCD and depression:

  • In OCD, you feel like you have to do certain actions repeatedly to lessen anxiety, like checking things multiple times. Depression doesn’t usually involve these repeated behaviors, although it can sometimes lead to compulsive actions like excessive drinking or drug use.
  • OCD can sometimes lead to tic disorders, which are sudden, rapid movements or vocalizations. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that tic disorders come from depression.
  • In the past, OCD was classified as an anxiety disorder, but in the current classification system (DSM-5), it’s separated from both anxiety and mood disorders. Depression is classified as a mood disorder. 

How does depression affect OCD Treatment?

You might be wondering why people who are depressed don’t do as well with their treatment compared to those who aren’t. How does depression affect the therapy for OCD called exposure and response prevention (ERP)?

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Depressive symptoms can make it tough for someone to fully engage in exposure exercises, which are crucial for gradually overcoming their fears linked to OCD.
  • When someone is dealing with symptoms like low energy, disinterest, and fatigue due to depression, it can be hard for them to find the motivation for ERP therapy, a common OCD treatment.
  • Depressed individuals often find themselves fixating on the potential negative outcomes of ERP therapy, which can lead to increased anxiety and a reluctance to fully commit to treatment.
  • Depression can also affect how someone thinks and processes information, making it challenging for them to concentrate and actively participate in therapy.
  • Managing emotions can become more challenging with depressive symptoms, which can in turn impact a person’s ability to cope with the anxiety and distress associated with OCD triggers.
  • In cases where someone is dealing with both depression and OCD, they may prioritize treating their depression first because it has a more significant impact on their daily life.
  • Dealing with comorbid depression alongside OCD can lengthen the overall time needed for symptom improvement, as both conditions require effective management for the best results.
  • Furthermore, untreated depression can increase the risk of relapse in individuals with OCD, as ongoing depression may trigger OCD symptoms or make existing ones more severe.

How to cope with OCD-caused depression?

As we gave you an answer to the question, Can OCD cause depression? Now let’s uncover coping strategies.

Here are their tips for dealing with OCD-caused depression:

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): Gradually face obsessive fears and avoid engaging in compulsive behaviors with the guidance of a therapist.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practice staying present in the moment to reduce anxiety from both OCD and depression.
  • Challenge Negative Thoughts: Question the accuracy of obsessive thoughts and depressive self-criticisms, replacing them with balanced perspectives.
  • Routine: Establish a daily schedule that includes activities you enjoy to bring structure and purpose to your day.
  • Social Support: Connect with friends, family, or support groups to combat feelings of isolation and share experiences.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Prioritize balanced meals, exercise, and proper sleep to improve overall well-being.
  • Set Attainable Goals: Break tasks into manageable steps to boost a sense of accomplishment and combat feelings of hopelessness.
  • Limit Stress: Identify stressors and develop healthy strategies to manage them, reducing their impact on your mood.
  • Distraction Techniques: Engage in activities that capture your focus and provide a temporary break from obsessive or depressive thoughts.
  • Deep Breathing: Practice deep, slow breaths to calm anxiety and promote relaxation.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Work with a therapist to address both OCD and depression thought patterns.
  • Self-Compassion: Treat yourself kindly and replace self-criticism with self-compassionate statements.
  • Engage in Hobbies: Pursue activities that you find fulfilling and enjoyable, even if motivation is low.
  • Positive Affirmations: Repeat positive statements to counteract negative self-perceptions and boost self-esteem.
  • Medication Management: If prescribed, take medications as directed and communicate openly with your healthcare provider about any concerns or side effects.


So to conclude: Can OCD cause depression? OCD and depression often appear together, with OCD usually showing up first and depression coming later. This suggests that living with OCD might lead to depression.

Both OCD and depression can be treated. Medication and therapy are common treatments that can significantly reduce symptoms.

If you have both OCD and depression, it’s often better to start by treating the OCD symptoms. When OCD gets better, depression might improve too.

Dealing with OCD and depression can be challenging, but you’re not alone. With the right treatment and support, your symptoms, daily life, and overall well-being can get better.