OCD - Statistics on Underdiagnosis and Undertreatment

Health Writer

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. Treatment for OCD normally includes a combination of exposure, or cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication. Most people respond well to these treatments and are able to lead satisfying and productive lives.

Many people, however, never seek treatment and therefore live their lives suffering from the sometimes debilitating symptoms of OCD.

Some startling statistics about OCD:

  • 1 in every 50 adults in the United States has  OCD.  2 in every 50 adults have had incidents of OCD sometime in their life.
  • One third of adults with OCD indicate their disorder began in childhood.
  • People with OCD report an average of 17 years between onset and receiving appropriate treatment with an average of 9 years of actively seeking treatment before receiving appropriate treatment.
  • People see an average of 3 to 4 doctors before receiving a correct diagnosis.

Why is there such a discrepancy?

There are a number of reasons for the underdiagnosis of OCD:

  • People feel shame over their symptoms and therefore do not seek help.
  • People are embarrassed about symptoms and become secretive.
  • Some medical professionals do not understand or are not familiar with symptoms of OCD.
  • People do not have access to quality medical care.

Unfortunately, when OCD is not properly treated, other conditions, such as depression can occur. In addition, without treatment people with OCD will have more problems at work and in relationships. As with may mental illnesses, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better chance of living a satisfying life.

If you are experiencing, or know someone that is experiencing symptoms of OCD, please contact your doctor.


"Diagnosis and Treatment of OCD and Related Disorders", 2007, Dell'Osso et al, International Journal of Clinical Practice

"About OCD", 2008,  Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation