Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
In almost every TV show or movie, there is one character who’s obsessed with cleaning or has to have things arranged in a particular way. Some of us might have heard our friends say, “that’s so OCD” or “I’m OCD” in relation to them cleaning something or being a perfectionist. But is that really what OCD is?
A MISUNDERSTOOD MENTAL ILLNESS
According to the American Psychiatric Association, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is “an anxiety disorder in which time people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” These behaviors are not infrequent quirks, as is portrayed on TV. Instead, these are time consuming behaviors that can interfere with a person’s life. To be diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, you must be having obsessions and/or compulsions for one hour or more per day, and they must cause distress and impair functioning in work and/or social settings. Approximately 1.2% of the American population suffers from OCD, and the disorder often begins in childhood or adolescence, and increases with time. (American Psychiatric Association) OCD is diagnosed and treated based on its two components: obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are intrusive, persistent thoughts that can be upsetting and sometimes disturbing. According to the International OCD Foundation, common obsessions include fears of contamination and losing control, fears of being responsible for harm done to others, obsessions related to perfectionism, unwanted thoughts, religious obsessions and other obsessions such as those related to getting a physical illness or those related to superstitions.* Because OCD is a subset of anxiety, these obsessions can trigger panic attacks and physical responses as well as compulsions.
Compulsions are repeated behaviors or mental acts which are performed to try to counter the obsessions. Compulsions are carried out to try and make the person who is experiencing obsessions feel more in control and usually not performing them causes them great stress, but unfortunately, performing them does not usually relieve obsessions. People with OCD have described knowing that the compulsions they’re performing are unreasonable and impractical, but not having control of the compulsions. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning, checking (ex. retracing a driving route to make sure one hasn’t hit any pedestrians), repeating, mental compulsions, and other compulsions such as rearranging and asking for reassurance.*
BUT WHY IS IT A BAD THING?
OCD may seem like a harmless perfectionism on the surface, but obsessions can be seriously taxing on one’s mental health, and compulsions take up large amounts of time and usually inhibit people from living their lives, due to fear or just how time-consuming the obsessions are. While perfectionists pride themselves on their impeccable work, OCD sufferers despair in having to perform tasks, and to say the least, would rather not have to do them. OCD sufferers can go through a variety of different treatments, but ultimately, it is a life-altering disorder. One OCD sufferer was once told that they were lucky to have OCD because it meant that they would be thorough in their work and would have an advantage over their peers, but this is a statement made out of true misunderstanding and inconsiderateness. Though this may seem like a redundant statement, people with OCD do not want to have OCD.
CAN YOU TREAT OCD?
Although OCD is life-altering, there are new treatments which slowly can help patients heal. If you have OCD and you don’t know what to do, you can get help from therapists, clinics and support groups (there are resources at the bottom of the article). You will be able to get guidance and support, and you should know that there will always be people rooting for you.
People who suffer from OCD can experience either obsessions or compulsions or both, and in most cases would rather not have to do these tiring acts. People experience OCD in many different ways and forms, and are not necessarily uber-clean or perfectionists. So, next time you hear a friend joking that they have OCD, maybe let them know that the disorder is life-altering and can have serious consequences. If you or a loved one suffers from OCD, know that there is hope for healing, and there are many success stories for treating OCD.
IF YOU ARE HAVING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS OR ARE IN EMOTIONAL DISTRESS, PLEASE CALL HERE FOR FREE 24 HOUR HELP AND GUIDANCE IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH:
*DISCLAIMER: this article is not intended as medical advice, and if you think you might have OCD, please contact a mental health professional.
“What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” American Psychiatric Association, 2020, www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ocd/what-is-obsessive-compulsive-disorder#:~:text=Obsessive%2Dcompulsive%20disorder%20(OCD)%20is%20an%20anxiety%20disorder%20in,do%20something%20repetitively%20(compulsions). Accessed 1 Aug. 2020.
“What Is OCD?” International OCD Foundation, iocdf.org/about-ocd/. Accessed 1 Aug. 2020.