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How This New Site Could Help OCD Sufferers Feel Less Alone

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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Refinery29 is exploring mental health topics as part of our partnership withClinton Global Initiative University.

Virtually everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes — moments where you might think about doing something violent or otherwise disturbing — and those thoughts are normally just dismissed as bits of fleeting weirdness. But for some, including Aaron Harvey, those thoughts just breed anxiety and may develop into a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Harvey's intrusive thoughts (and his anxiety over them) started when he was just 13. Now, 20 years later, he's launching a website to help people like him feel less alone.

Officially launching today, Intrusive Thoughts is meant to be a source of information and reassurance for anyone concerned about this, whether they have a clinical disorder or run-of-the-mill anxieties. Harvey tells R29 the idea was to appeal to those people Googling their symptoms, "looking for an understanding of what’s happening in their head." Because the thoughts are often so disturbing or embarrassing, many people who worry about them are reluctant to seek treatment.

Harvey says he himself spent two decades dealing with these thoughts on his own before ever being diagnosed. "I started to have a lot of graphic violent images in my head that I couldn’t understand. It produced a lot of anxiety and led to panic attacks and constantly questioning my character," he says. "Any time I would try to escape them, they would get more violent and more graphic."

Any time I would try to escape [my intrusive thoughts], they would get more violent and more graphic.

Aaron Harvey
After being inspired by a particularly empathetic article in The Guardian, he created Intrusive Thoughts partly as a way of passing on that empathy. First, users are greeted with a page that, initially, says nothing about OCD. Instead, the site immediately makes users feel more normal with text that reads, "Every four out of five people experience intrusive thoughts... But for one in 50 this fear becomes much harder to dismiss." Keep scrolling and you'll find descriptions of the other things those few have to deal with: Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and escalating avoidance of the anxiety-producing thing all create a vicious cycle.

From there, users can learn more about the symptoms of specific kinds of OCD-related intrusive thoughts — including obsessive, recurring thoughts related to physically hurting your loved ones, the future of your romantic relationships, and your sexuality. Users will also find resources from therapists to help explain what they're going through and guide them through the most effective treatment processes. They'll also find advice on incorporating mindfulness, yoga, and healthy eating practices into their lives. The goal is to act as an inviting, easy-to-use, helpful database for people to start learning about their intrusive thoughts and (if necessary) seek out the best treatment for them.

Although intrusive thoughts may be associated with other disorders — and Harvey says he ultimately wants to create similar sites for all mental illnesses — right now his focus is on helping others going through what he went through: "My goal is to capture me when I was 13 and I started to experience this," he says, "so that next 13-year-old doesn’t have to spend the next 20 years figuring out what the hell is going on and thinking that they’re a bad person."
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