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.)
- 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)
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
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:
- 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!!