Sisters take steps to help OCD sufferers
When Abbi Willetts began washing her hands until they started bleeding at the age of four her parents were told by doctors not to worry.
But the pre-schooler’s problems escalated throughout her childhood taking an ever-tightening grip over daily life as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was eventually diagnosed.
Mum Penny, 45, head of Ashford Prep School, said: “Abbi refused to touch door handles and if she had a shower and touched the shower tap afterwards, she would shower all over again.”
Travelling on public transport was fraught with difficulties as Abbi, who is now 16 and a pupil at Benenden School, did not want to keep any bag that she’d been carrying.
“If Abbi’s bag had been on a train then she wouldn’t go near it afterwards,” said Penny.
The obsessive hand-washing continued as Abbi wouldn’t wear clothes more than once without them needing to be washed, so jeans and jumpers would all need to go straight back in the machine.
Her family who live in Din- gleden, including sister Saskia, 14, and dad Rob, 44, were roped into Abbi’s rituals and felt helpless in the face of her distress.
F a mi l y members wer e instructed to turn taps on and off in the bathroom at her request, or answer questions in a specific way, with Abbi repeating the same question until they had framed the answer exactly as she needed to hear it. Anxiety also caused the youngster to be physically sick before she went out.
“It sounds illogical if you have never experienced OCD,” said Penny. Even Abbi knows it’s illogical.”
Abbi and her sister Saskia, gave a talk at Benenden School about OCD, which resulted in a standing ovation from fellow pupils.
The sisters did a sponsored 480mile circular walk around Benenden on Sunday and Monday and have raised more than £3,000 for OCD Action a charity helping other sufferers.
Friends and family joined them as they walked 12 times around a four-mile course, a route they usually use to walk the family’s black Labrador Sedge –12 being the number of years Abbi has had the condition.
Abbi is now determined to raise the issue of mental health problems in children and her openness has prompted families to get in touch with Penny, to say they are worried about their child.
The teenager has just taken her GCSEs and written a book on her experiences that is being considered by a publisher.
Penny said: “It’s important to get help with OCD early and if you get turned away by doctors keep insisting something is done.”
Abbi is facing a much brighter future with the help of antidepressant drug Sertraline and cognitive behavioural therapy from Benenden School counsellor Caroline Clarke-Wooster.
Penny said: “She goes to parties, travels to London on the train and washes her hands for two minutes, not 20 minutes. Abbi has her down days but she is learning to manage her condition.
“Knowing she is helping other children in difficulty is driving her on.”
To support Abbi’s mission visit https://tinyurl.com/yc9c9bph
Saskia and Abbi Willetts, centre, surrounded by family and friends on their 48-mile walk to raise awareness of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Abbi and Saskia Willetts