Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental disorder that many people suffer from. However, like any other chronic or mental health-related illnesses, there are many misconceptions about OCD, including what it actually is.
Myths and stigmas may negatively affect people with OCD by trivializing their symptoms or affecting how others treat them. These misconceptions about OCD are especially dangerous for people who may have been recently diagnosed or are currently going through the diagnosis process. It’s important to learn the facts and try to dispel misconceptions when possible. Though fighting prejudice and educating people on the facts isn’t always easy, it’s still worth a try. If you fail to communicate how a person’s biases about OCD are hurting you, you may have to remove yourself from the situation.
OCD Is a Serious Mental Disorder
One of the major misconceptions about OCD is that it’s just a quirky character flaw. Some people may describe their extremely organized, neat, particular, or “neurotic” friends as having OCD. However, OCD is a chronic illness in which a person feels like they have no control over their obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) characterizes OCD as:
- Having repeated unwanted thoughts that the person recognizes as obsessive but has no control over stopping them.
- Repeating compulsive behaviors that the person may not find pleasure in but gives the person some temporary relief.
- Spending at least an hour a day performing compulsive rituals or behaviors or thinking about obsessive thoughts.
- These obsessions and compulsions interfere with the person’s everyday life.
When people casually use the term OCD to refer to a person’s neurotic-like character, it trivializes the symptoms and experiences of people suffering from OCD. It may also cause people to self-diagnose or for a professional to misdiagnose a problem as OCD when there might be something completely unrelated going on. This could cause the person to receive treatment that won’t help relieve their symptoms and may cause discouragement for seeking further treatment. This also encourages the attitude that people with OCD symptoms just need to relax and “get over it” when it’s much more complicated than that.
Stigmas About Obsessions and Compulsions
Obsessions are defined as repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause a person anxiety or stress. A person’s obsessions may cause compulsions or repetitive behaviors in response to obsessive thoughts and an attempt to relieve the anxiety or stress that these thoughts can cause. While many people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, some people with OCD only have one or the other.
The stigmas around what classifies as obsessions and compulsions can cause ignorance about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many people think of obsessions and compulsions related to cleanliness, such as obsessing over germs leading to excessive cleaning or hand washing. While obsessions and compulsions can be related to cleanliness, this is not always the case. Obsessions can deal with guilt, sex, religion, harm, aggression, or more. Compulsions could include arranging things in a specific way, repeatedly checking on things, counting, and more. There are many thoughts or behaviors that can become compulsions.
Myths About OCD Treatment and Causes
There are some myths about OCD not being treatable and that it is caused by a bad childhood. These, however, are simply not true. There are many different types of treatment for OCD that help people improve and manage their symptoms to live a healthy and successful life. Many people with OCD receive psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. The most common types of therapy treatment for OCD are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP).
ERP involves spending time in a situation that may trigger a person’s repulsions but prevents them from performing any ritualistic compulsive behaviors. Popular medications for treating OCD include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and, in some cases, antipsychotic medications.
Combating OCD Stigmas
Dealing with OCD stigmas and prejudices may require assessing situations and educating the people in your life about your OCD symptoms, struggles, and how these negative beliefs surrounding OCD may negatively affect you. If you encounter a situation with coworkers, friends, or family where you feel like someone you know might be buying into prejudices about OCD, it’s important that you communicate your feelings to the person. Let the person know how their false beliefs are affecting you. Identify what may be harmful about a misconception and educate the person about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of OCD and how it personally affects your life. If the person continues to act poorly toward you due to continued prejudice, it might be necessary to take further action. Having a support group of people to rely on may help you navigate these difficult situations.
There are many assumptions, stigmas, and myths surrounding obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you suspect that you or a loved one has OCD, it’s important to navigate negative prejudices when evaluating symptoms for a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment. OCD is a common chronic mental disorder that is treatable through a combination of medication and therapy.
At Shoreline Recovery, we provide treatment for substance use disorders as well as mental health disorders like OCD. We are dedicated to helping our clients manage their OCD symptoms so that they can live happy, successful, and healthy lives. We believe in building a community of support for all of our clients by encouraging socialization and providing social events. The friends you make at Shoreline will become a support system that you can rely on any time you find yourself in a difficult situation. If you or a loved one is struggling with OCD symptoms, please call us at (866) 278-8495 to learn more about our programs.