Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental illness marked by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. OCD is very prevalent but still one of the most understood health conditions out there. There are many misconceptions about OCD that people have either due to information from unreliable sources or how it’s characterized on TV (Tony Shalhoub in Monk and Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory).
Fact vs. Fiction
MYTH: WE ARE ALL “A LITTLE BIT OCD” AT TIMES.
FACT: OCD is a very real mental health condition affecting about 2 to 3 million adults, and half a million youth, in the US alone. You often hear people say, “I’m a little bit OCD”, when in actuality they may have obsessive or compulsive traits, but not OCD. Someone diagnosed with OCD cannot simply “turn it off”. The brain of a person with OCD is wired differently contributing to a stronger influence on one’s thoughts and actions.
MYTH: STRESS CAUSES OCD, PEOPLE JUST NEED TO RELAX.
FACT: Having OCD is not simply an overreaction to the stresses of life. While stressful situations can increase symptoms for people with OCD, they do not cause OCD. People with OCD encounter debilitating anxiety on a daily basis, due to things called obsessions. The worry and fear caused by their anxiety leads people to use compulsions or rituals. These are not activities that a person does because they want to, but rather because they feel as though it will ease their anxiety. The reality of it is that the rituals individuals with OCD do in order to reduce their anxiety are actually exacerbating it.
MYTH: OCD IS JUST ABOUT HAND-WASHING, CLEANING, AND BEING NEAT.
FACT: Sure, a fixation on keeping things clean may be a common compulsion of OCD but it only makes up a small part of the range of OCD triggers and symptoms. People with OCD can have obsessions related to a wide variety of things. Vice versa leading to different compulsions, such as hoarding items, counting, checking and rechecking that you didn’t make a mistake, fearing something bad such as a fire or accident, and repeating routines such as going in and out of a door.
MYTH: OCD ISN’T TREATABLE AND THERE IS NO HOPE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE IT TO EVER LEAD HAPPY, FUNCTIONAL LIVES.
FACT: With proper treatment, it is very possible for people with OCD to lead full and productive lives. Many people respond positively to behavioral therapy and/or medication. Individuals have also reported support groups are very helpful. Support groups provide people with OCD the opportunity to meet others in the community who understand what they are going through. It’s important for people to remember that OCD cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with proper treatment.
How can we help?
- OCD is a mental illness and stigma is one of the biggest problems faced by people with mental illnesses. We can help by thinking about what we say and do beforehand, making sure it’s not stigmatizing. Education is also key so that individuals become more knowledgeable and are able to distinguish between fact and fiction. Removing the stigma of mental illness is not an easy task but if everyone does their part it will make the world a better place.
OCD Physician Recruitment. (2017). Facts about obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD Physician Recruitment Newsletter. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts
Taylor, R., & Reeder, C. (2015). Intensive individual and group cognitive behavioural therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. American Journal Of Psychotherapy, 69(3), 269-284.
Williams, M. T., Farris, S. G., Turkheimer, E., Pinto, A., Ozanick, K., Franklin, M. E., & Foa, E. B. (2011). Myth of the pure obsessional type in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Depression & Anxiety (1091-4269), 28(6), 495-500. doi:10.1002/da.20820
Wilson, M., Storms, K. (2014). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Myths and facts. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from https://centerstone.org/about/news/press-releases/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-myths-and-facts