OCD community gathers in Minneapolis

OCD Twin Cities makes its debut at the annual Obsessive Compulsive Foundation Conference.

For 20 years, Randy Herrera dealt with his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder , praying hundreds of times a day and counting things in threes. Then last year, he attended the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation Conference in Boston where he said he got treatment, and most of his symptoms went away. Last weekend, Minneapolis played host to the 16th annual conference, bringing together more than 1,200 OCD sufferers, their friends, family and the researchers trying to help them. HerreraâÄôs success led him to create the first Minnesota affiliate of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation: OCD Twin Cities . âÄúMy quality of life just improved dramatically, so I decided in 2009, one of my goals was to create awareness about OCD here in the Twin Cities,âÄù he said. âÄúI knew there was a big need for it because there are very few resources available.âÄù Obsessive Compulsive Disorder occurs when the part of the brain that screens out unimportant information is not working properly. People with OCD will often engage in âÄúritualsâÄù in order to combat fears and anxieties they experience. One of HerreraâÄôs fears was a fear of God, a disorder known as scrupulosity . His fear of saying or thinking something that would offend God caused Herrera to constantly pray, which could take hours. Dr. Suck Won Kim , a University of Minnesota professor of psychiatry, said heâÄôs been doing OCD research since he had a patient who had the disorder. âÄúShe was just so obsessed about her hair and then [she] used a drug and then she just literally got cured,âÄù he said. âÄúSo I got fascinated by that drug and mechanism, and I really began to study the disorder.âÄù The drug he used âÄî part of a series of serotonin drugs âÄî is commonly used to treat disorders like OCD. KimâÄôs research took off with the advent of computers. He participated in clinical trials and joined the Obsessive Compulsive FoundationâÄôs Scientific Advisory Board . Because of the information available on the Internet, OCD affects people for a much shorter time today than in the past, Kim said. âÄúCompared to the 1980s, itâÄôs like day and night. Many of them are now informed about OCD,âÄù he said. âÄúEverybody thought it was an untreatable disease, so things have changed.âÄù That was the message Herrera was trying to convey in a speech at the conference on Friday. âÄúLook at me today, you can do it, IâÄôve done it, IâÄôve crossed it,âÄù Herrera told his audience. About four million Americans have OCD according to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation , one million of whom are children and teenagers. On campus, two percent of students have experienced OCD in their lifetime, while less than one percent has experienced it in the past 12 months according to the 2008 College Student Health Survey . Counseling is available at Boynton Health Services and the University Counseling and Consulting Services . Also, students with mental health issues may be able to get assistance from Disability Services . Dave Golden , public health and marketing director at Boynton, said they frequently see OCD patients. Those who visit the Mental Health Clinic at Boynton will be assessed and possibly referred to another physician outside of Boynton, Golden said. Kim, one of only three psychiatrists in Minnesota who specializes in OCD, said there is only one doctor in the state who can give a patient Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which makes patients face their fears. âÄú[The therapy is] exposure and response prevention,âÄù Kim said. âÄúSo they end up feeling terribly anxious and uncomfortable.âÄù Sufferers who use both medications and CBT show the best results, Kim said. Attending the conference last year exposed Herrera to CBT. He said one exercise he practiced was to have participants rub their hands on the ground and then rub their face. Herrera said he had no problem with that. Then, the doctor running the exercises brought out a tray of already chewed gum, and told the volunteers to eat it. Herrera hesitated. âÄú[The doctor] says to me, âÄòRandy, do you want OCD for another 20 years?âÄô I said âÄòno,âÄô he said, âÄòDo you want your family to have to deal with you for another 10 years?âÄô I said âÄònoâÄô and I grabbed it and put it in my mouth and chewed it. It was a turning point for me,âÄù he said. Now Herrera hopes to help others in the Twin Cities overcome the disorder. âÄúOCD is treatable,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs the thing that we all need to understand and know.âÄù