Research on the relationship between environmental factors and OCD is still ongoing.
A major environmental factor that can worsen the symptoms of OCD is stressful life events, especially traumatic events such as death of a loved one, major accidents, and physical or sexual abuse during childhood. Traumatic events can also take place in school, such as unpleasant experiences of bullying or the teacher caning the student.
Apart from traumatic life events, substance abuse ranks among the major OCD triggers. Whether substance abuse is a consequence of traumatic life events in childhood or the OCD is not always clear.
Research has uncovered a link between socioeconomic conditions and OCD, with people of a lower socioeconomic status more at risk of developing the disorder. Changes in living conditions, from good to bad or bad to good also influence OCD. What is unclear however is whether lower socioeconomic conditions causes OCD, or OCD leads to a lower socioeconomic condition owing to inability to lead a normal life.
Just like the link between socioeconomic conditions and OCD, research has also established a link between marriage and OCD and employment and OCD. Unmarried people are more at risk of OCD, and so are unemployed people. Research is still ongoing, and whether unemployment and/or single life contributes to OCD or whether OCD gets in the way of a person’s employment or marriage is not yet established
Illness can also trigger OCD. For instance, a streptococcal infection of the throat may cause the body to confuse healthy cells with the infection, leading to cellular damage. Such cellular damage occurring in the brain triggers OCD symptoms. This is however a rare and temporary condition.
Another theory is that children who tend to feel guilty about their natural needs owing to cultural factors and societal norms develop OCD.
The relationship between environmental factors and OCD is based on the fact that all OCD risk factors related to environmental issues cause stress, and sometimes depression, which in turn causes more stress. Stress triggers intrusive thoughts, rituals, and emotional distress which are characteristic of OCD.