You’ve probably heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – a mental illness that affects 1.2% of adults in the United States.1 If you’ve ever watched Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets or Tony Shalhoub in Monk, then you’re probably familiar with OCD – or so you think. Despite its prevalence, OCD is one of the most misunderstood health disorders out there, largely due to stereotypes perpetuated both in the media and in society. Today, we’re debunking these seven OCD myths and giving you the facts.
Myth #1: We’re all “a little bit OCD” sometimes.
Fact: OCD is not a personality trait. It’s a mental health disorder. People with OCD can have many compulsive or obsessive traits, and people who are diagnosed with it don’t choose to have it and can’t just “turn it off.” What’s more, common OCD stereotypes such as cleanliness among all those diagnosed are perpetuated because of phrases like, “I’m so OCD about…” So again, OCD is not a personality trait.
Myth #2: People with OCD just need to relax.
Fact: Having OCD isn’t just about experiencing an overreaction to things. It’s a disorder that’s largely tied to anxiety and intrusive or disturbing thoughts. A person with OCD may engage in compulsive behaviors – such as turning the light switch on and off a certain number of times – to ease their anxiety. This isn’t something they can control but rather an innate feeling of panic they feel they have to address to prevent something horrible from happening.
Myth #3: Everyone with OCD is obsessed with cleaning.
Fact: One of the most common misconceptions about OCD is that everyone with the disorder is a “clean freak.” In reality, triggers related to hand washing or compulsive cleaning make up a small portion of the range of OCD triggers and symptoms. People with OCD can experience obsessions related to various things, such as hurting others or themselves, unwanted sexual thoughts, and more. Similarly, the anxiety caused by these obsessions may be lessened by engaging in compulsions like checking, repeating, and counting.
Myth #4: People with OCD are super organized.
Fact: Similar to the myth that all people with OCD are cleaning fanatics, not all people with OCD are organized. As we mentioned previously, there are various subtypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder, each of which involves different obsessions and compulsions. For some people, their obsessions or intrusive thoughts may be related to self-harm, and for others, it may be related to contamination or organization. It varies from person to person.
With that said, assuming that all people with OCD are super organized invalidates the challenges of the disorder and makes it seem more like a personality trait. Some people even go as far as to wish they had OCD without realizing the severity of the condition. Don’t fall into this pattern.
Myth #5: It’s easy to tell if a person has OCD.
Fact: Mainly because of the way the media portrays people with OCD, it’s become normal to assume that you can tell right away if someone has this disorder. Television characters like Monk display obsessive-compulsive disorder more as having superpowers that help solve crimes. But this isn’t accurate.
Despite the media’s portrayal of OCD and what you think you know based on things you’ve watched, you’ve likely come across people with OCD without realizing it. Individuals with this disorder are often able to hide their symptoms when they’re around others. This is especially true if they’re receiving obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment.
Myth #6: There’s only one type of OCD.
Fact: While people usually only think of cleanliness and contamination when they think of OCD, these aren’t the only types out there. OCD types include hoarding disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, body-focused repetitive behaviors, olfactory reference syndrome, scrupulosity, and more. Limiting this condition to the two types that are most often portrayed in the media can make it more difficult for people with other “less common” types of OCD to open up and seek support.
Myth #7: OCD is funny.
Fact: Arguably, one of the most harmful OCD myths is that the disorder is funny. While it’s often the butt of jokes in the media, there’s nothing comedic about obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is a legitimate condition that can take over a person’s life and make tasks as simple as doing groceries challenging.
If left untreated, OCD can severely inhibit a person’s ability to socialize, hold down a job, and participate in activities they enjoy. In turn, this promotes isolation and loneliness, which only worsens their mental health and increases their risk of engaging in harmful coping methods like substance abuse or self-harm, as well as their risk of comorbidity.
People with OCD are 80% more likely to develop comorbidity or an additional mental health disorder like depression or anxiety.2 Research also suggests that suicide is a common risk among people with OCD. One study found that 36% of OCD patients have had suicidal thoughts, and 11% have a history of suicidal attempts.3
For these reasons, people with OCD should receive residential mental health care. Professional treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) give them the best chance at overcoming their symptoms and learning how to manage them properly to live a happy and fulfilling life.
OCD misconceptions aren’t the only things our clients deal with. Myths are just one of the various challenges that people with mental health disorders face every day. The good news is, you don’t have to deal with it alone.
Our Florida mental health rehab offers anxiety and depression treatment, among various other levels of care to assist clients in their recovery. We’re dedicated to helping people who are facing the challenges of mental illness better understand their conditions, the source of their symptoms, and develop healthy coping methods.