How is OCD misperceived and stigmatized in our society?

What You Need To Know About OCD:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions (intrusive thoughts that trigger distressing feelings) and compulsions (behaviors that attempt to decrease the impact of these distressing feelings). The majority of people will experience some kind of obsessions and compulsions in their lifetime, but that does not mean they have OCD. When certain obsessive and compulsive behaviors become so extreme that they hinder an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis, they will most likely be diagnosed with OCD. 


Common obsessions in OCD include:


  • Body fluids (ex: urine, saliva, etc.)
  • Germs/disease (ex: flu, HIV, etc.)
  • Environmental contaminants (ex: asbestos, radiation, etc.)
  • Household chemicals (ex: cleaners, solvents, etc.)
  • Dirt

Losing Control

  • Fear of acting on impulse to hurt oneself or others
  • Fear of violent images in one’s mind
  • Fear of blurting out obscenities or insults
  • Fear of stealing things

Obsessions Related to Perfectionism

  • Concern about evenness or exactness
  • Concern with a need to know or remember
  • Fear of losing or forgetting important information when throwing something away
  • Inability to decide whether to keep or to discard things
  • Fear of losing things


Again, these obsessions may be common intrusive thoughts to the average person, but someone with OCD experiences extreme and persistent distress over these otherwise normal and passing thoughts. 


Common compulsions in OCD include:

Washing and Cleaning

  • Washing hands excessively
  • Excessive showering, tooth-brushing, grooming, etc.
  • Cleaning household items or other objects excessively 


  • Checking that you did not/will not harm others
  • Checking that you did not/will not harm yourself
  • Checking that nothing terrible happened
  • Checking that you did not make a mistake
  • Checking some parts of you physical condition or body


  • Rereading or rewriting
  • Repeating routine activities (ex: going in/out doors, standing up/sitting down)
  • Repeating body movements (ex: tapping, touching, blinking)
  • Repeating activities in “multiples” (ex: tapping three times because three is a “safe” number)


Similarly to the obsessions, you may have experienced a handful of these compulsions in your lifetime. However, people with OCD and the compulsion to wash their hands excessively, for example, might scrub their hands raw because they feel the need to keep doing their compulsion.

(International OCD Foundation)

“7 Myths & 7 Facts About OCD.” OCD-UK, 2016,

Perfectionism Is Not OCD

Feeling a want to be perfect or have things a certain way is a completely normal human desire. However, calling one of these perfectionist tendencies “OCD” is incorrect and actually harmful to people who suffer from OCD because it adds stigma to an already stigmatized disorder. 

“From a high level, the best way to think about OCD versus perfectionism is to think about who is this behavior serving and who is it bothering? People with obsessive-compulsive disorder know that their behavior is problematic but they can’t stop it. People with perfectionism don’t care – it makes their lives orderly.” – Joseph Baskin, MD

My Experience

This conference offers us as students the unique opportunity to educate people globally about an issue we find important. For me, choosing my focus as OCD was the easy part. Over the years, I’ve noticed OCD being treated as a joke, and both the children and adults around me using OCD as an excuse to seem organized and neat. Not only do these behaviors add to the stigma surrounding OCD, but they also turn a debilitating disorder into a joke, hurting the people who suffer through their daily lives because of OCD. 

I am no stranger to mental illness myself. In recent years, I have been diagnosed with both depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Although living with these disorders isn’t fun or easy, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share my experiences with others and hopefully spread awareness about stigmatized mental illnesses. Although I am not diagnosed with OCD, I am prone to obsessive-compulsive tendencies and have undergone behavioral therapy for such tendencies. 

Starting this project, I had only a baseline understanding of OCD through my own experience and the stories of others’ experiences. After doing research about the disorder and reading a few stories about how OCD has affected people, the importance of this topic was fully solidified in my mind. OCD is a very serious disorder and needs to be treated as such. With this project, I hope to educate and inspire people to become more supportive towards people in their community who suffer from OCD.

What Can We Do?

  • Understand as much as we can about the disorder

The first step in de-stigmatizing a disorder like OCD is education. In this project, I aimed to educate more people about how OCD affects people in an attempt to reduce the stigma and misconceptions surrounding the disorder. If you want to learn more about OCD and the science behind obsessive-compulsive behaviors, here are some resources that you may find useful:

What Causes OCD?

Subtypes of OCD

Science of How OCD Works (Dealing with Brain Lock)

  • Help to create safe spaces for people suffering from OCD

Whether at work, school, or home, it is of utmost importance to make sure that people who are suffering from OCD know they have a support system behind them and people who are willing to help them help themselves. 

During these uncertain and trying times, it can be especially hard for people who already suffer from OCD or obsessive-compulsive tendencies. This short video from NBC helps to explain how best to support those struggling to control their OCD during the pandemic. 

How Will You Help?

In the comments below, please share how your perception of OCD has changed/shifted since learning more about the disorder. Also, comment about one way you can help to support someone with OCD or obsessive-compulsive tendencies while quarantined. 

This is a safe space! Feel free to share any personal anecdotes or experiences with OCD, as we all do our part to replace stigma with empathy!!

Works Cited

Share this project
  1. April 23, 2020 by Elizabeth

    I love your presentation and how you are trying to break the stigma and myths surrounding OCD. Personally, I also feel like OCD is never taken seriously, and people interchangeably use perfectionist and OCD, but in reality, OCD is much more harmful and serious than putting pens in colored order on your desk. I have noticed especially with the growth of social media, a lot of people self diagnose for conditions like OCD and anxiety. For example, you can find tons of Instagram threads titled “things I didn’t know where anxiety/OCD/depression”, and the list of “symptoms” are things like getting nervous before presentations, your hands get sweaty, getting anxious when looking at a messy backpack, you feel like you want to stay at home all day. I feel like excessive self-diagnosing leads to the general population taking it less seriously because if OCD is so widespread and the symptoms are so common, it can’t be that bad. I like how you provided a lot of detailed information and targeted specific myths about OCD. I feel like this is a great way to break the stigma, and I hope that educating people will continue to change common perceptions about OCD.

    • April 26, 2020 by Emma

      Hi Elizabeth,
      I agree! Self-diagnosing mental illnesses seems to be really common on social media, and it’s definitely unfortunate because it does lead to people taking those disorders less seriously. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people use disorders like anxiety, depression, or OCD to get attention, which is extremely insensitive and dangerous.

  2. April 23, 2020 by Kristi Conner

    Thank you so much for doing a presentation about this! I have noticed too that OCD is taken very lightly and I have a close friend who was recently diagnosed with it but I never understood how detrimental it is. I will 100% be sharing this information with my friends and family. Your presentation was so easy to follow and you got the main points across thoughtfully and concisely. Definitely one of my favorite websites!

    • April 26, 2020 by Emma

      Hi Kristi,
      I’m so glad you found this post informative! Please feel free to share anything that sparked your interest, as my main goal of this presentation is to spread awareness of what OCD is really like!

  3. April 25, 2020 by Natalia

    Like the other comments, I have definitely seen people take OCD as a joke, which is why I think this project is so great! I really liked the myth v fact infographic, as well as the bulleted points in the beginning. The fact that you used your own experience for this project (as the inspiration for creating it, as well as general knowledge) really drives in the point that real people have OCD (or similar tendencies) and that it affects their life in a real way.

    • April 26, 2020 by Emma

      Hi Natalia,
      Thank you for your kind comment! I was definitely nervous to share about my own experience with mental illness, so I really appreciate you saying that it made my presentation more true-to-life!!

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