Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions out there. Between everyday misuse of the word, movies poorly representing OCD, and cleaning blogs using OCD as a “cleaning method”, it’s no wonder why the disorder isn’t understood. In this blog, we will be giving some clarity about what OCD actually is, as well as debunking some myths about the mental health condition.
So, what is OCD? The diagnostic criteria of obsessive-compulsive disorder according to the DSM-V includes A) the presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both, B) the obsessions or compulsions are time consuming, C) the obsessions and/or compulsions are not caused by a substance, D) the disturbances are not better explained by another mental health disorder. So, let's go through these together.
A.) The presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both. So, just what are obsessions? Obsessions are defined as recurrent or persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive and unwanted, and in most people cause significant anxiety or distress. Usually the person attempts to ignore or suppress obsessions. In other words, obsessions are thoughts, images, or urges that are distressing and intrusive. Many people have obsessions surrounding contamination, disturbing sexual thoughts or images, concern with symmetry, intrusive thoughts of sounds, fear of losing something important, or religious incongruence/sins.
Compulsions are typically defined as repetitive behaviors or mental acts that people feel driven to perform in order to ease an obsession. Some compulsions are related to the obsession, for example excessive hand washing when obsessing over contamination, while others can seem completely unrelated. Many people find compulsions/rituals to be time consuming and disruptive. In order to receive an OCD diagnosis, you need to have one or both obsessions and compulsions. That’s right, you can have OCD without the compulsions.
B.) Time consumption: the obsessions and/or compulsions need to take up at least an hour of one’s day or cause clinically significant distress to an individual.
C.) This includes criterion D as well. Ruling out substance use and other mental disorders. I would also argue that in this stage, it is important to consult with a doctor to rule out any physiological disorders as well.
Now that there is a better understanding of what OCD is, we can focus on the common stereotypes and myths that people with OCD face on a regular basis. Here are just a few misconceptions.
People with OCD are “neat freaks”. While a compulsion of OCD can be excessive cleaning or hand washing, the desire to keep your space tidy and clean is not the same as having overwhelming obsessions that are only kept at bay through vigorous cleaning that disrupts the day. People who like to clean do not always have OCD. Many people find joy in organizing and cleaning. That’s a major difference between people with OCD and people who like to clean.
People with OCD are unpleasant to be around. You can thank movies for this one. In most movies that feature a character with OCD, you can find the character to be rude, afraid of the outside world, unfriendly, unconventional, and/or have tendencies surrounding stalking, abuse, and harassment. In reality, most people with OCD are just normal people trying to live their lives while dealing with horrendous intrusive thoughts and worry. People with OCD are neighbors, friends, classmates, doctors, teachers, etc. The movie industry has done injustice to those with an OCD diagnosis.
We are all a little OCD at times. OCD is not a quirk. It’s not something that people can integrate into their personalities because they choose to do so. While people may have the urge to go on a cleaning spree, wash their hands twice a day, or organize their desk at work, this is not the same as having the overwhelming, uncontrollable thoughts that infringe upon daily life.
Yes, people can have intrusive thoughts. Yes, people can feel the need to count something in their mind. But if this isn’t happening regularly or causing significant distress, then you are not “being OCD”, you are being human.