Did OCD Exist in Ancient Times?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by recurring and uncontrollable thoughts, images, or impulses known as obsessions, which are often accompanied by repetitive behaviors or compulsions that the person feels compelled to perform.

But did OCD exist in ancient times? Let’s explore.

History of OCD

It is difficult to trace the exact origin of OCD as it was not recognized as a distinct mental health condition until the late 19th century. However, there have been references to symptoms that could be related to OCD in ancient civilizations.

Ancient Greece and Rome

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote about people who had a habit of repeatedly washing their hands or cleaning themselves. He suggested that this behavior might be due to an imbalance in bodily fluids and was a sign of madness.

In ancient Rome, the poet Lucretius (99-55 BC) described how some individuals would repeatedly check whether they had locked their doors or windows before going to bed. This behavior was seen as a form of superstition rather than a mental disorder.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages (5th – 15th centuries), religious rituals were an integral part of daily life. Some individuals would engage in excessive and repetitive praying, counting beads, or touching religious relics, which could be seen as signs of religious devotion but also could be related to OCD-like symptoms.

Modern Era

It wasn’t until the 17th century that the term “scrupulosity” was coined to describe excessive religious doubt and guilt that could lead to compulsive behaviors. In the late 19th century, French psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot described patients with “folie du doute” (madness of doubt), which included symptoms of compulsive checking and counting.

In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud proposed that obsessions and compulsions were the result of unresolved conflicts and unconscious desires. It wasn’t until the 1980s that OCD was officially recognized as a distinct mental health disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).


Although there are references to symptoms that could be related to OCD in ancient times, it is difficult to say with certainty whether people back then suffered from what we now know as OCD. The lack of understanding and recognition of mental health disorders in ancient times makes it challenging to identify individuals with specific conditions. However, it is clear that throughout history, there have been people who exhibited behaviors that today would be considered symptoms of OCD.

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of OCD, it’s essential to seek professional help. With proper treatment, including therapy and medication, many people with OCD can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.