Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious illness that society has made fashionable, says an Otago University psychologist.
Senior lecturer Chris Gale, who specialises in anxiety disorders, said the newfound popularity of OCD had people led to “pulling out the textbook and ticking their symptoms off”.
“The Americans are in the habit of diagnosing everything and everyone, but we don’t actually need to medicate everything.”
He said it was of growing concern that people made light of OCD and compared a few individual quirks to a debilitating illness that could stop people functioning.
“The key thing to measure is the threshold for treatment, and to actually have a disorder it has to be making your life a misery.”
The Phobic Trust, which supports and treats people with anxiety disorders, was also concerned about how “loosely” some people used the illness to describe their own behaviours.
“It’s important that people with certain traits, such as liking things clean or ordered, are not necessarily confused with people who genuinely suffer from OCD,” a spokeswoman said.
Those at the extreme end had their day-to-day lives constantly interrupted. “For those who have severe OCD, it would be very hard to hold down a job or just function in life.
“Leaving the house and getting things done would be extremely difficult.”
For some OCD sufferers, their illness carried a real stigma that made it difficult to confide in friends and family.
“Some of the people we see are very secretive about it and, although we encourage them to tell their family, many choose not to disclose it,” she said.
Psychologists have yet to find middle ground on an appropriate threshold for treating and medicating OCD, from which about 3% of the population suffers.
OCD is an anxiety disorder causing unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations, obsessions or behaviours that make the sufferer feel driven to do certain things.
“Sometimes it might be an experience that triggered it but for others it’s brain wiring,” the spokeswoman said.
“There are also cases where there is a genetic predisposition, and more than one person in the family has it.”
OCD ON SCREEN
Tony Shalhoub as Monk in the American detective series of the same name.
Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall in the movie As Good As it Gets.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator.
Nicolas Cage as Roy Waller in Matchstick Men.
Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple.
Leonardo DiCaprio says he has to stop himself from letting it take over his life.
Billy Bob Thornton is versed in repetitive compulsive actions, and has a phobia of antique furniture.
Charles Darwin showed classic signs of suffering from OCD.
David Beckham is obsessed with symmetry and hates odd numbers.
Michelangelo is believed to have had it.