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Debunked Myths: OCD

By: Kiara Sahi, Contributing Writer.

Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief

For far too long, society has inaccurately generalised the experiences of those struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The erroneous representation of this mental disorder in the media, along with the common overlooking of the several fundamental aspects of this disorder when it is spoken about has significantly contributed to a blunder of misunderstanding. Not only has these misconceptions invalidated the experiences of those that battle OCD on a daily basis, but it has also potentially interfered with the diagnosis of the disorder for those that may be unaware of their mental illness. Yes, there is a conversation, but it’s the wrong conversation.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be explained by breaking down its two basic elements: obsessions and compulsions. While almost everyone has experienced some sort of obsession, urge, and compulsive behaviour in their lives, those who suffer from OCD experience obsessions and compulsive behaviours that do not pass and often take up more than an hour of their day, having the potential to interfere with their daily lives. The obsessions range from intrusive thoughts of a violent or sexual nature, often associated with unwanted and disturbing mental visuals, fear of contamination, desire for perfection, or constant fear that they may harm themselves or others around them. These obsessions cause a considerable amount of distress to those that suffer from OCD, resulting in anxiety, discomfort and perpetual worry. To ease the dread and anxiety that they experience due to these obsessions, people with OCD perform specific and repetitive actions, such as counting, cleaning, organizing, constant checking, or self-harm. These are what are referred to as “compulsions.” Performing these compulsions gives people struggling with OCD a short-lived moment of relief and assurance. While those that suffer from OCD do essentially understand that their fears and obsessions are irrational, they are still overwhelmed by a feeling that their worries and fixations have a genuine standing in real situations. This disorder usually starts to develop at a young age, its onset after the age of 40 is rare. This mental illness has been found to develop earlier in males during adolescence than compared to females. It is, however, more frequently seen in females during adulthood. OCD is a common and chronic mental health condition, affecting two percent of the world population. Like most other mental health conditions, it can be helped, but not cured (Medline).

OCD: Myth vs reality.

The phrase “I’m so OCD” is often used in an incorrect context. This phrase represents the public’s level of understanding of the disorder: OCD is just the need to have everything arranged in a tidy and organized manner. When people bring this sort of knowledge to a conversation, be it one of support or education, this half-understanding often results in the use of harmful language, which can potentially invalidate the experiences of those that suffer from OCD. In addition to this, the spread of misinformation regarding OCD may also stop someone from recognizing their symptoms and getting the help that they need .

When someone suffering from OCD comes forward about their experiences, they’ve found that if they are not someone who is meticulously organized at all times, most people tell them that they’ve probably been misdiagnosed. The notion that only those who need to be neat and tidy at all times are those who struggle with OCD is far from the truth. People who suffer from OCD exhibit different compulsive behaviours, being organized is only one of the possibilities.

Let’s take a look at Hanna Gudrun, a mental health advocate, writer, actress, and journalist, and her experience with OCD.

“In college, I told my roommate I live with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and she laughed. I assured her I was serious, but she was convinced I must have been severely misdiagnosed. I was the “least OCD person” she knew. I mean, had I seen my room? It was a mess.”

Hanna’s obsessions are to do with harm and danger. She sees every potential form of danger in her immediate surroundings. Hanna, from a very young age onwards, would create to-do lists on a post-it note before going to bed, and continued to do so for years, as it gave her reassurance that it would keep herself and others safe. She tried to “wash away” these distressing thoughts through prayers, confessions and avoidance. When her OCD was at its worst, she’d sweep sidewalks throughout the day and remove any object that could cause any sort of harm to someone. Eventually, she was hospitalized due to her OCD.

“I felt that I alone held the burden to protect all species from every possible harm that could fall upon them. OCD meant not being able to open my eyes because there was too much danger to see. I would ask others to hold my hand and guide me from place to place with my eyes closed. It was just all too much. This is when I was hospitalized” (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

This segues to the next common misconception about OCD. With no understanding of what OCD stems from, people are often unaware of the severity of OCD and that it can, in fact, lead to hospitalization. OCD is not a personality quirk, it is not a label one gives to their tidy side. OCD is a mental disorder that can overwhelm and interfere with the daily lives of those that battle it. This disorder can be the reason why some people choose not to leave their homes. This illness is a very real, and an incredibly difficult mental health condition that can be terrifying at times, especially if left untreated (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Treatment of OCD.

Lastly, another myth concerned with OCD is that it cannot be treated. This mental disorder is treatable, yet not curable. While the condition persists despite treatment, its symptoms are dampened and the treated individuals are better equipped in dealing with the disorder. Most patients respond to the various courses of treatment made available to them. Nevertheless, some patients do not respond to treatment and continue to experience symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three courses of action can be taken in treating OCD: Psychotherapy, medication, and Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS). Psychotherapy includes cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), specifically a certain type of CBT, which is known as Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP). EX/RP helps OCD-inflicted individuals curb their compulsive behaviours by putting them in situations that trigger their compulsions, only to prevent them from performing the specific compulsive behaviours that they undertake to relieve themselves of anxiety or discomfort. Medications prescribed for OCD involve serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation was recently approved in 2018 by the FDA as an effective treatment for OCD. This outpatient procedure is the course of treatment that is generally taken by patients that do not respond to medication or psychotherapy. It is a 20-minute treatment in which the specific parts of the brain that are involved in OCD are targeted by temporary magnetic fields. The treatment period is between five to six weeks (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Educating oneself and being mindful of one’s language while talking about any mental illness is vital and can make a considerable difference. Creating a safe and supportive space for those that are at war with their mental illness every day is a crucial step to be taken not only towards their recovery but also towards the betterment of society for those that need a helping hand as they heal.

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