Debunking Myths: What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

“I am kind of an OC“- a common line people refer to themselves if they are being tidy and neat. What most people don’t realize is that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is so much more than that. To have an OCD, one must be diagnosed by a professional and has to meet the criteria of being one. The normalization of these mental disorders is becoming a problem since people can’t fully grasp the extremity of the situation.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), OCD is characterized by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive and unwanted. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.

People with OCD do not necessarily enjoy cleaning

Cleanliness and tidiness are the most common criteria why people claim they have OCD. Not all people with OCD enjoy cleaning- people clean to reduce the anxiety caused by their obsessions. That is why people have the compulsions to reduce this stress. Though some of the people suffering from OCD perform ritualistic cleaning behavior, not all OCD have the same rituals. Hoarding Disorder which is categorized under OCD is something deviant from the ‘clean character’ of an obsessive-compulsive individual. People suffering from hoarding disorder find it hard to discard possessions and the need to acquire more. So, to break the stereotype, not all people with OCD are particularly clean.

This is also a common misconception we hear from people. This is the result of normalizing something that needs medical attention. The media give emphasis on the strict organization and categorization of things. There is no such this as “a little bit OCD” just as no one can ever have a little bit of cancer.

Obsessions and/or compulsions can cause distress and impairment to the person’s normal function

One of the major criteria of having a mental disorder is the presence of impairment. The obsessions or compulsions in nature to OCD are time-consuming that can cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. If one is not suffering this kind of distress, then it basically is not OCD, it’s just being tidy and orderly.

Kids are also vulnerable to developing OCD

This most definitely is not true. According to DSM-V, the mean age at onset of OCD is 19.5 years, and 25% start at the age of 14. Onset after 35 years is unusual but it does still occur. People with obsessions and/or compulsions must at least have these symptoms for 12 whole months.

We must first acknowledge the difference between treatment and cure. It is true that people with OCD can never have a life with no obsession and/or compulsion. But they are capable of living a life with a lesser magnitude of these symptoms. Treatments can be very effective in reducing the impact of the symptoms on the daily lives of people with the condition.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is talking therapy that can help the patients manage problems by changing the way they think and behave. Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), a more specific type of CBT, has already produced amazing results in modifying repetitive acts and decreasing the distress associated with thoughts.

Drug medications are also prescribed alongside with therapy. There is also Electroconvulsive Therapy and surgery for people who resist these kinds of treatment. It is a procedure where the person will receive small electric currents to pass through the brain, under a general anesthesia. It can change the chemistry in the brain that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health illness.

Mental health should be given more importance and awareness. But this awareness should not lead to normalization of these disorders. We should draw a fine line between being tidy and being OCD. OCD is not a characteristic, but it is a disorder that can lead to distress and harm if not timely treated.

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