“I am so OCD, sorry!”
“Ugh, she is so bipolar sometimes.”
“He’s a complete narcissist!”
“Uh oh, my ADHD is kicking in again.”
I hear this statements being thrown around all the time – both in and outside of my office. These “labels” we create to describe people (or ourselves) in an often negative way can be relatively harmless; they are most times met with an empathetic nod from those we are talking to about certain behaviors and personalities we encounter in our daily lives. In this series of blog posts, I want to take the time to address each of these terms to provide education around what they really mean.
When I have used these terms casually in the past, I certainly did not mean any harm or have any intention of offending those actually living with these mental illnesses. However, this can potentially hurt some people by way of miseducation about what they or others are actually experiencing day to day.
So what do some of the most common “labels” really mean? This week, we will start with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – or the “She cleans way too much and needs control over everything” myth.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
What we think it means: Someone who is over the top about cleaning, organization, and order.
What it really means: According to the DSM 5, the text used to diagnose mental health disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder actually shows up in two ways: Obsessions (Intrusive, anxious thoughts) and compulsions (Behaviors related to the intrusive thoughts). Individuals experiencing an OCD-episode have intrusive thoughts that bring on severe anxiety or distress, and they attempt to ignore or suppress the anxious thoughts by completing “rituals” or behaviors aimed to make the thoughts go away. The behavior is often unrelated to the thoughts, and are not realistic in trying to solve the problem the person is obsessively thinking about. For example, someone may wash their hands sixteen times in a row in order to release an anxious thought. Another person may attempt to suppress their anxiety by counting or repeating a certain word to themselves several times until they feel the anxiety has decreased.
Can Obsessive Compulsive Disorder present as someone cleaning excessively or organizing to a tee? Of course. But these behaviors get the most attention in describing a mental illness that is far more complicated than the friend who makes you feel inadequate about your housekeeping skills.
Can healthy people have “rituals” they engage in day to day? Yes – but checking to see if the coffee pot has been turned off several times before leaving the house is normal. The difference between your desire to not set your house on fire and someone with OCD’s desire to stop obsessive thoughts by counting to 45 six times in a row is this – it impacts the latter’s daily life, functioning, and brings on severe stress.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD impacts approximately one percent of the U.S. Population, or about 2.2 million people. OCD usually shows up in childhood and teen years, but may come and go in terms of severity throughout the sufferer’s life. OCD is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Treatment for OCD is generally medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.
It is important to remember that OCD is a treatable condition, and those suffering from it can benefit greatly from support, education, and family and friends taking their condition seriously. It is vital for family members to ride a fine line between enabling (like encouraging family member to complete their rituals) and criticizing (like telling the family member they are being ridiculous). The best thing you can do for someone is encourage them to get help – the same way you would for any other mental health or physical illness. Sufferers of OCD can be frustrating to live with, but the support from loved ones and mental health professionals can make a world of difference for those living with OCD.